short story

The Journey

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Seven-year old Isla Bowd let out a big yawn - one that caused her eyes to water. She hated early mornings. It was bad enough when she had to do it every day for school. But she’d not anticipated having to do it during her holidays too. "If only we could have stayed back for a few more days at Aunt Lilian's beautiful home!" she thought.  Unfortunately, her mother needed to get the 0930 Southern Express back home as she was due to start her mid-day shift at the new hospital today. Isla tightly wrapped her petite fingers around her mother’s hands as they tried to navigate their way through the congested Underground station. It was right in the middle of rush hour on a Thursday morning and in true London fashion, both locals and tourists were rushing through the station hoping to catch the 0849 Piccadilly service towards Heathrow Airport, oblivious to everything and everyone around them.  

As the doors to the rear carriage of the Piccadilly train opened, Isla felt herself being almost lifted off the platform and pushed into the swarming carriage which was packed tighter than sardines in a can. As she struggled to regain her footing,  her mother slowly pulled her away from the doors and into the centre of the train where there was a bit more room to breathe. Isla looked up at her mother who had started counting the number of stops to their destination. Wiping the sweat off her forehead with her free hand, Isla looked around the carriage. It was filled with people from every imaginable walk of life. She smiled as she caught the eye of a young woman with a tiny baby clutched close to her chest. The baby was fast asleep with a smile of contentment on his face. As she turned to call her mother, a loud repeated beeping noise diverted her attention towards the doors that were now starting to shut. To her horror, she saw a man running at breakneck speed towards the now partially shut doors. She closed her eyes and clutched her mother’s arm tightly as she heard a loud thud from near the door. A few seconds later, as the driver read out a message requesting passengers to not block the entrance or exit, Isla slowly opened one of her eyes and glanced towards the door. The man sat on the floor, panting profusely like he’d just run a marathon. As she caught his eye he grinned like a little boy, his steel blue eyes twinkling through the oversized spectacles he was sporting. She smiled back as the train started to gather speed. Suddenly there was a loud bang, followed by a blinding white light. And then everything went dark.

 

************

 

Alex Horne knew he was behind schedule. It was his first day on his new job and he was going to be extremely late. “Great way to start things off!” he thought as he hastily got dressed. He took a moment to admire himself in the mirror. At 34, Alex knew things were finally  starting to look up for him. Abandoned at birth, he had grown up in an orphanage in Haywards Heath, West Sussex. The orphanage was run by the local parish and most of his education had been driven by the church-led school a few miles down the road. Whilst the rest of his friends embraced the religious enlightenment whole heartedly, Alex struggled with the concept of blind faith. Driven by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Alex found solace in books and newspapers from the local library, each of which helped in shaping his outlook towards the world and ultimately led him to question the basis of all that the Church had taught them. Eventually this had led to a run in with Father Andrews who had him labelled as a heretic and banished him from school. With no other option, Alex had started to work as a delivery boy for a modest local newspaper by day and pursued community education by night. The more he learnt about the real world, the more he realised that blind faith and luck was never an alternative to hard work and determination.  As for prayer, he had never quite taken to it at all.

 

As he tied his shoe laces, Alex threw a quick glance towards the bed where his girlfriend of six years, Kristen Cairn was fast asleep, her gentle snores disturbing the peace of an otherwise quiet morning. She’d been up all night finalising her thesis that had to be submitted the following week. He smiled as he thought of how they’d managed to hit it off. Some of his friends had called him lucky for having found her. But he knew how hard he’d worked to get her to say yes to his incessant dinner date requests. A light beep from his Casio watch reminded him that it was 8am. He was going to be really late, he thought once again as he quickly planted a kiss on Kristen’s cheek and rushed out of the door throwing his jacket over his shoulder.

 

Alex rushed down the escalator at Kings Cross station trying to avoid the stares and rants of his co-travellers as he jumped over a suitcase. He had to get the train that was on the platform now. As he slid around the corner which led to the southbound platform of the Piccadilly line, he heard the familiar repeated beeping that signified that the door was about to shut. Determined to get there, he ran at full speed towards the closing doors. As he leapt into the last compartment of the train, he desperately tried to avoid crashing into the bearded teenager with his Islamic skull cap standing by the corner. Somehow at the last minute, he managed to swerve and ended up hitting the floor of the train with a loud thud. With a cheeky grin on his face, Alex tried to stand up. He was thankful his spectacles were still intact. He caught the eye of a little girl who was staring at him as if he’d just appeared out of thin air. He flashed her a smile which was returned in kind. All of a sudden, there was an ear-splitting blast. As a blinding white light took over the entire carriage, he felt as if time had stopped. The little girl he had been smiling at was suspended mid-air, along with a few other passengers. As he blinked twice in quick succession to clear his vision, everything went black.

 

************

 

The first sound Alex heard when he regained consciousness was the continual shrill ringing in his ears. It sounded like someone was consistently clanging metal cymbals against his head. He tried to open his eyes but they felt like they were sealed shut. He couldn’t breathe and felt like someone was sitting on him and trying to suffocate him at the same time. He couldn’t move any part of his body. He managed to open his mouth to scream out loud but no sound would come. “Or maybe I just can’t hear my own voice over the racket of this metal clanging in my ears” he thought as he continued to try opening his eyes.

 

As suddenly as it had gone, his hearing reappeared. It was as if his ears had suddenly popped. Slowly the sounds started to filter through and it seemed like it was utter pandemonium. He could hear people groaning, screaming and shouting. And then sobbing. He heard sounds of people sifting through what sounded like stones and metal. He could smell the coppery-rusted smell of blood and the stench of burning flesh. As he lay there befuddled, Alex started to feel his body come back to him. He was alive. And it hurt. He realised that he was lying on his back. He managed to move his left hand and tried to run it over his face.  His fingers touched something wet and squishy. It took him a few moments to realise that it was his right cheek, or whatever was left of it rather. He was surprised that he could still not feel any pain from the wound. He had no idea how long he’d been out for or what had caused him to black out.  Alex just wanted to scream out for help. But still his throat refused to respond.

 

After what seemed like an eternity, Alex sensed the presence of people around him. He felt someone lift the heavy object that had been on his chest. Alex took a deep breath and felt the putrid air fill his lungs. It smelled of soot, rust, burnt meat and seared hair. The rancid smell made him want to retch and he felt bile start to rise in the back of his throat. “Don’t try to move!” said a voice near his ear. The first calming sound that he’d heard since he'd lost consciousness. He felt the person try to lift his body, but apart from moving him a few inches, the owner of the calm voice was unable to do lift him completely. As his body hit the floor, he felt the first pangs of pain start to catch hold of him. It started near right cheek and sped quickly through the length of his body, coming to rest at his left knee where it exploded into a world of agony. He screamed. It was almost as if his brain had flicked a button to ensure he felt the pain.  Still unable to open his eyes, he wept silently as he succumbed to it. For the first time in his life, he really prayed. To put him out of his misery.

 

************

 

Through the window inside the St.James Cathedral, Father Daniel surveyed the group of survivors, relations and friends of victims and general well-wishers. They were slowly  shuffling along the line waiting their turn to place the flowers on the memorial stone which had been erected outside the church for the victims of 7/7. The congregation was wrought with emotion - some feeling fortunate at having survived, the others distraught at having lost a loved one. “…and it’s all because of someone’s faith; or lack of it!” he thought as he slowly turned around to place his Bible on the stand behind him.  A series of thuds on the tiled church floor alerted him to someone’s presence. He watched as a man in a long flowing trench coat and wide-brimmed hat slowly hobbled up the aisle. The thud occurred every time he put his left foot out to take a step. It was nearly sunset and the only light was from rows of lit candles on either side of the aisle.

 

As the man came closer, Father Daniel noticed that his left eye sported an eye patch. The man's steel blue right eye glanced over the priest as if to denote his acknowledgement. A long, deep flesh wound disfigured the right side of his cheek and his right arm was heavily bandaged. Ignoring the priest’s surprised face, the man staggered up the pair of steps that led him right past Father Daniel and up into the altar. The priest watched on curiously as the man removed his hat, exposing a subterranean scar that ran all the way from the nape of his neck and disappeared into the area covered by the coat. The man gently whispered something that Father Daniel interpreted as an indication of gratitude and made the sign of the cross while softly reciting the trinitarian formula - "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. 

 

As he slowly put his hat back on, Alex Horne fixed his gaze on the crucified figure of the son of God and thought, “Maybe faith isn’t such a bad thing after all.."

************

 

 [This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was  "Describe a memory or encounter in which you considered your faith, religion, spirituality — or lack of — for the first time"  This post is a work of fiction based on the London Underground bombings of 7th July 2005. All the characters that I've included are fictitious and any resemblance to people dead or alive is purely coincidental.]

The Surprise|Guest post

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  Pixie and I share a very strange friendship. We are rather close, discuss everything (and everyone ...yes, beware!) under the sun (especially fellow bloggers/writers) and also leave no stone unturned trying to tease  and get one up on each other. "What's strange about that?" I hear you ask. Here's the thing. Pixie and I have never met. And we have never ever spoken. Probably because I'm not much of a phone person. But more on than later. Yes, we know almost everything that is there to know about each other and our families. Then why do I use the name Pixie, I hear you ask. Because Pixie, just like her pseudo-name, has a streak of mischievousness and just like the folklore, she is someone who is very fond of dancing. She writes with a passion that is so rare these days amongst lot of us writer-folks and her blog represents her space and her thoughts on anything and everything.  

You can find more about her, here : http://mytakeoneverything9.wordpress.com/

If I had to describe our friendship with the help of a YouTube video, this would be it:

http://youtu.be/UBMNP6x3PA4

And on that joyful note, here's a short fiction post that she wrote for me. Read it. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. And Pixie, Thank you !

 

*******

Helen smiled as she read the quote inscribed on the first page of her best-friend Aaron’s novel. It felt good to see her words imprinted in ink, that too on a book that had already sold over a million copies. She glanced at the clock on the wall. She needed to leave now, if she was to arrange everything for the party that was being thrown for Aaron. For a first-time author, the book was an unprecedented success and Helen was thrilled for him. Together with his wife Elise, Helen had planned the whole party and had even managed to keep it a secret from Aaron.

The bakers had confirmed the delivery of the cake to the apartment. Helen had personally picked out the design and had decided that it was going to be shaped in the form of an open book with an inscription from the book. It was even to have the pages marked. As Helen ran around her apartment trying to get the decorations ready, she thought about the story that Aaron had written. It was about a mysterious shape-shifter, a man who was a creature of the night and protector of the city. The protagonist Adam Roock, was a normal man by day. But as night slipped in, Adam changed into different forms to help the people and Police of the city of New York. Whilst Helen loved the story, she couldn’t help but smile at the resemblance to the famed Harry Potter series. But since it had appealed to everyone from kids to teenagers to even adults, the publisher and editor had already started to pressurise Aaron to write a sequel. Being a stickler for details, Helen had decided that only Aaron’s favorite food was to be served. She’d taken the pains to ensure that all the families and their kids had RSVP’d  and had even set up a bar for the adults and a juice counter for the younger kids. The food included bite-sized calzones with marinara sauce as a dip, potato wedges with a white cheese and chilli sauce and generous helpings of portioned garlic bread and tomato soup. In addition, knowing Elise’s fondness for Indian food, Helen had also arranged for some spicy deep-fried Cauliflower florets (known as Chilli Gobis) along with vegetarian kebabs with the cocktails. They’d decided that Helen’s 13th floor apartment would be perfect for the party since it was spacious and most of her modern décor furniture could be rearranged to accommodate the guests. Though she’d mentioned that the party would commence at 6:30pm, guests had already started trickling in by 6pm. Helen fervently hoped that Aaron and Elise would be able to make it at least by 7pm.

*******

Across town, Elise stared at Aaron with a look of worry etched on her face. This was one party they couldn’t afford to miss. But Aaron was reluctant. “Couldn’t you have just postponed it? The timing of this whole supposed surprise party sucks!” he said straightening his bow. Elise nodded and said, “I know Aaron. I know. But, Jim’s babysitter said she was free only tonight and you know how hard it is to get someone on such short notice. Please act surprised and we will try to leave early.” She walked over to him, kissed him lightly and said, “You look very handsome in a tux, Mr. Bestselling author!” The tension left Aaron’s shoulders and he smiled at his gorgeous wife wondering how he had gotten so lucky with her.

As soon as Aaron and Elise walked in to Helen’s apartment, the party started. Though he’d known about it, Aaron was genuinely surprised because he hadn’t expected it to be on such a grand scale. Extremely touched by Helen’s sweet gesture, he thanked her for the lovely party. He signed a few books and even posed for a picture with an over-enthusiastic 15 year old and her parents. After the initial chitter-chatter, Aaron slowly pulled away into a corner. He wanted to be happy. The success of his book meant everything to him, but tonight just wasn’t the right time to celebrate. He watched as some of the young couples danced around. There was even a book-reading session set up for the young adults in one of the guest-bedrooms. “Helen has surpassed herself.” he thought fondly as he saw her bring the beautiful cake into the room. Amidst a lot of laughter and festivity, Aaron cut the beautiful cake. It was whisked away by Helen to be cut into neat pieces and served to everyone. He loved the food and the drinks but didn’t eat much. He could feel his insides twitch and struggle. He checked the watch constantly dreading that it might be too late to leave.

As the clock hit 10:30pm, Elise signalled to a beaming Helen and pulled her closer. With a smile on her face, she said “It’s time for us to leave darling. Please make our excuses to the rest of the gang. Aaron needs to be home soon. Jim will need his feed too.”  Though her face dropped, Helen nodded sombrely. She hugged Elise and said, “Call me if you need anything.”  Mouthing a thank you, Elise and Aaron quietly left the apartment. It was close to midnight when they reached home. As he always did, Aaron went into little Jim’s nursery and kissed him. As he watched Jim sleep soundly, he knew a time would come when Jim had to know the truth. But, for now, he felt blessed for little Jim and his cute innocence.

Aaron walked over to Elise and gave her a tight hug. He slowly walked out of the house and shut the door gently behind him. As he turned a dark street corner, he noticed that they had a full moon. As the clock on the church tower struck midnight, Aaron felt himself transform. He came from a family of shape-shifters. For centuries, their secret had been guarded. If History was to be believed, they had started off as killers, unsure of their powers and frightened of the changes. But, since his great-grandfather’s reign, they had done only good to their communities. The Police often kept quiet as there was no way to explain the strange occurrences. So they did the best they could; they took credit for the exceptionally low crime-rate and accepted the accolades that were bestowed on them. The gift was passed on through generations to only the first child in the family, when they turned 13. Little Jim still had plenty time before he came to know or even understood the huge responsibility his forefathers had passed on. The leaves on the trees rustled as the cool night breeze passed through them. As Aaron took the shape of a moving shadow and slunk away into the darkness quietly to play the saviour once again, he thought fondly about the quote that Helen had inscribed in the first page of his book.

The quill moves  The soul struggles The story stays The plot moves Characters get involved Reality shifts Fiction becomes the truth....

[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was  "Plan the ultimate celebration for the person you’re closest to, and tell us about it. Where is it? Who’s there? What’s served? What happens? "]

No. 728, Indira Nagar

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Satyamurti frowned as he heard the doorbell chime. Letting out a groan, he got up from the floor where he was sitting cross-legged offering his prayers. The door bell continued to ring persistently. “Coming!” yelled out Satya, as he shut the door to the pooja area. He ambled towards the front door, muttering how it had become impossible to say his morning prayers without being disturbed. Unlatching the door, he swung it open to reveal a delivery man smiling at him. “I was just about to leave” he said thrusting a thickly padded package into Satya’s hands. “Yes, yes. You people can’t even wait for an old man to get to the door. Always in a hurry” mumbled Satya as he hastily scribbled his signature on the delivery sheet.

As he closed the front door behind him, Satya wondered about the contents of the package. He wasn’t expecting any deliveries, especially not at the rented address he was staying at presently. The package itself was nondescript with no markings or indication as to who the sender could be. Curious to find out, Satya grabbed a knife from the kitchen and ripped open the package. Inside was a rectangular wooden block with the word "Meenakshi" engraved on it in cursive.  He smiled as he read the sender’s address on the gift receipt inside the packaging. He had often thought about getting this done, but his only daughter had surprised him. Once again.

 

As he placed the wooden block on the teapoy, he glanced at the decorated invite lying next to it. He smiled again as he picked up the invitation for the house warming ceremony for “Meenakshi”, the new apartment complex that he was going to move into soon. He was excited just like the rest of his family was. He'd been waiting for this for a long time. Three years to be precise. He slowly walked out to the balcony and peered through the grills at the four-storeyed apartment block in the distance. Though the construction had been completed a few months ago, the painter and his team were busy applying a final coat of all-weather paint to the exterior walls of the apartment complex. As he followed the painters’ brushes moving in deliberate patterns across the wall, he felt his mind starting to flood with memories of his home.

 

Even though it was over three decades ago, Satya clearly remembered the day he bought his first and only piece of land. When he was sixteen, Satya’s father had passed away after a brief but vigorous battle with Typhoid. As the eldest of five children and the only son to his parents, he had taken over the helm of the family to look after his sisters and ailing mother. It hadn’t been easy. Since his father had died while in service, the Railways provided a meagre pension to help support the family. Satya desperately wanted to help supplement the income and hadstarted working part-time after school at the local tea-shop.  Though he’d cleared his boards with flying colours, unlike his classmates, Satya did not have the opportunity to study further. Fortunately one of his father’s colleagues helped him get a paid internship with one of the state banks and he was soon flourishing in his career as a bank officer. By the time he had turned 30, Satya was working in Chennai as the Assistant Manager for Reserve Bank of India. His four sisters had been married off and were settled comfortably and his mother reminded him it was time for him to do the same.

 

Since they were still staying in a rented house, Satya decided that it was high time that they got one of their own. Having secured a house loan against his meagre salary, he purchased a plot of land in Adyar in Chennai. At the time, the area had been mostly residential and far away from the bustling crowds and traffic of Central Chennai. Though he was conscious that he would be repaying the loan for the next thirty years, he had decided that it was imperative that they have their own home before he got married. So in September 1974,  along with his mother, he laid the foundation stone for what was going to be their family home. Satya had been actively involved in every aspect of construction and design of the modest three bedroom house and it was a dream come true for him and his mother.  It was into this family home, that his beautiful bride Meenakshi had set foot first after the wedding. It was in this very home that their three kids Karthik, Balaji and Radhika had been born.  It was in this home, that his mother Subbalakshmi had breathed her last.

 

A lone tear trickled down his cheek as Satya thought about his deceased mother. She had been his guide and source of strength, and he had never taken any decision throughout his life without consulting her. The sound of a group of kids playing hide and seek snapped Satya out of his melancholic thoughts. Watching them run around carefree and enjoy themselves, his mind started racing once again. During summer holidays, their family home would turn into a playground with kids of all ages running around the house and making a mess. Along with their own kids, Satya and Meenakshi had almost an entire cricket team of kids to look after and manage. Though Meenakshi always complained about it, he knew that she secretly enjoyed the presence of all the kids. She had been an only child and nothing made her happier than when she was in the presence of young kids. And she had left a positive mark on all the kids. Even today as grown ups, some of their nieces and nephews preferred to speak with their aunt Meenakshi about their issues rather than with their own parents.

 

Before they knew it, their three little kids had grown up and had families and careers of their own. Karthik and Radhika were settled abroad and Satya  and Meenakshi hardly saw their grandkids except when they visited India for two weeks every year. Though Balaji and his wife were still in Chennai, they had rented an apartment closer to their work location and hence apart from the occasional visits during a family festival, Satya and Meenakshi were mostly alone.  And suddenly the modest three-bedroom family home started to feel really huge for just the two of them.

 

It was when Karthik decided to return to India and Balaji started to look for his own flat, that Satya decided that it was time. The decision to build a block of flats over their family home was not an easy one for Satya to make. The home held a lot of  memories for them and demolishing it to build an apartment was akin to him being stabbed in the heart. But as a father, he knew that he had certain duties to fulfil. A joint family was no longer the norm of modern society and he had decided that it was time to give each of his kids their share of what they were due.

 

When he had broached the subject with his kids, they had been shocked by the idea. To them too, the family home was a treasure trove of childhood memories. Though they had initially opposed him, they eventually agreed to his plan and had supported Satya emotionally during the past three years. He still remembered the heartache he experienced as he watched the bulldozer tear through their home. He hadn’t been able to eat or sleep peacefully for weeks after that incident, but his family had stood by him.

 

A noise from behind - snapped Satya out of his trance like state. He turned around to find Meenakshi placing a steaming cup of filter coffee on the teapoy. She had noticed the wooden block which he had placed on the teapoy and was admiring it. He smiled as he walked towards her. It was just a matter of days before his wife and him, along with their sons and their families would be moving into their new homes in the apartment complex.

 

As he sat down on the chair, he made a mental note to call the carpenter to fix the name board before the ceremony. He took a sip of the strong coffee. It was bittersweet, just like his memories of the family home.

_____________________________

 

[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "You receive a gift that is bittersweet and makes you nostalgic. What is it?"   ]

I'd also like to add a special thanks to my lovely wife Janaki who provided the basis for the story and Seeta Bodke (of "The Lady in Black" fame who blogs at "The Write Side" for going through the rough draft and helping me fine tune it.

Main image : Courtesy Google Images

 

The Ancient Board

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Part 1 : The Garage Sale

Anna shrugged her shoulders and followed Erik across the beautifully manicured lawns. She glanced at the duplex house that adjoined the garage and wondered if and when they’d be able to afford a home like that. Only if Erik stops spending all his money on random objects.” she mused as she slowly made her way towards the open garage where boxes after boxes were carefully stacked. There was already a large mass of people methodically sifting through the boxes looking for objects of value. Erik had disappeared into the depths of the garage in the hope of finding some hidden gems to add to his growing collection of random objects, in the basement of their rented home.   Not wanting to follow him immediately, Anna walked across the lawn and leaned against one of the cars that was parked by the side of the house. Lighting up her favourite menthol cigarette, she inhaled deeply. As the menthol vapours started to work their magic swirling down her throat and filling her lungs, she started to feel a bit more relaxed. She glanced at her watch and hoped that Erik wouldn’t take too long. The sun was already starting to set and they had another couple of hours of driving till they got to their destination in Denver. She decided that she would give him ten more minutes before she went in and dragged him out. She giggled at the thought. Erik was well over six feet and built like a wrestler. She was almost a foot shorter and weighed just over 100 lbs. There was no chance she’d be able to exert enough physical force to drag him out. Lost in her own thoughts, she looked around. They were in a rather quaint little neighbourhood, with rows of duplex houses lining both sides of the shaded street. They had been forced to take a detour through this neighbourhood due to an accident on the state highway. And Erik, who normally missed most signboards, had noticed the board advertising a garage sale and had coerced her into stopping for a few minutes.   Stamping out the cigarette with her foot, Anna decided to go find Erik. They needed to get moving soon. She walked up to the garage and peered in through the entrance. It was dimly lit, with a lone hanging bulb providing the lone source of illumination. There were boxes of all imaginable shapes and sizes placed haphazardly across the entire garage, blocking her view. Erik?” she called out, hoping to hear a response in some form. There was none. Anna hesitated. She didn’t really want to have to go in. She was claustrophobic and hated dark places too. She looked around on the lawn. The crowd was dying down, but Erik was nowhere to be seen. She sighed. She was going to have to go in and find him. Slowly and carefully, Anna made her way towards the back of the garage, through the maze of cardboard boxes and other knick-knacks. As she walked through the low-lit garage, she suddenly cried out in pain as her shin made contact with something wooden. Bending down to massage her sore shin, she stared at the culprit. It was a light-brown rectangular box which was made of wood. She bent over and tried to retrieve the wooden object, which seemed to be protruding out from a torn cardboard box. Curious to find what it was, she pulled at it with all the strength she could muster. Since the object wasn’t wedged in too tightly, it came free quite easily and she fell backwards, crashing into a rickety side table.   Anna picked herself up and looked at the rectangular box that now lay sideways.. Though the surface was coated with dust, she could make out a few strange markings on the surface, which on closer observation seemed like Chinese lettering, which looked oddly familiar. She tugged at the golden latch in front of the box and lifted the lid to find out the contents. Her eyes widened in shock as she saw what the box contained and almost instantaneously she threw the wooden box and its contents onto the floor. As the box hit the floor with dull thud, a small heart-shaped flat piece of wood flew out and slid under an old table, in the corner of the room. Anna stood frozen to her spot. She desperately wanted to run out of the garage, but her legs refused to move. Suddenly the hanging bulb flickered and everything went dark.

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Part 2 : Anna's Secret

“Anna, Anna…are you okay?” She heard Erik’s deep voice calling out to her. Anna opened her eyes and saw Erik and an elderly oriental woman standing over her, looks of concern etched on their faces. She slowly nodded, sat up and looked around her. It was dark barring an orange glow from the nearby street light. As Erik helped her to her feet, the old lady offered her a glass of water, which she happily accepted. “What happened to me?” she asked Eric, returning the empty glass to the woman. Erik looked at her questioningly, “I am not sure. I was hoping you’d be able to tell me that.I was discussing final price for the stuff with the owner, when we heard a loud scream from the garage. And when we reached there, you were lying unconscious on the floor. So we brought you out into the lawn and tried to wake you up”. Suddenly the image of the board came rushing back to her. She motioned Erik towards the car and said, “I think we should leave. Now!” Erik nodded and said “Okay, let me just pay the lady, get the stuff into the car and we’ll go”. Anna shrugged and walked towards the car, still feeling a bit groggy.

 

She slid into the passenger seat and lit up a cigarette. Wanting to break the eerie silence, she turned on the radio and closed her eyes, but the image of the box and its contents flashed before her eyes. A loud thud made her jump and she turned around to look. It was Erik. He’d just dumped his stuff into the boot and shut the trunk of the car. As he slid into the car and started the ignition, Erik looked at Anna and asked “Are you sure you’re okay?”. Anna just smiled and looked out of the passenger side window onto the mysterious neighbourhood.

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“Do you know what a ouija board is?” asked Anna out loud, over the glaring sound of the radio. Erik flicked a switch on his left side and the radio switched off. They’d been on the road for almost ninety minutes and this was the first time Anna had spoken since they left the garage sale. “I know of it. But I’ve never ever used it. I’ve always wanted to try it though” replied Erik, keeping an eye on the rearview mirror. Try? It’s not a game!” exclaimed Anna loudly. Erik looked at her calmly and said “Anna, I know it’s not a game. But just like most people, I’m curious.” Anna remained silent. Putting the car into cruise control, Erik asked “What’s on your mind Anna? You’re behaving a bit strange.” Anna continued to remain silent for a few more minutes. And then she spoke.

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Part 3 : The Ouija Board

As a single child, Anna had more than made up for her lack of siblings through her close-set of friends,  Tom and Helen. The trio was both adventurous and mischievous,  and often found themselves in sticky situations. Growing up in a close-knit conservative community in Abingdon, Virginia, they had limited exposure to non Christian beliefs.  However the arrival of The Changs had changed everything. Though they did nothing to provoke the community, everyone looked at them with suspicion. The Changs had moved here from the little hamlet of Lily Dale, in New York, which was more popularly known as “The Psychic Town”, where almost everyone claimed to be able to talk to spirits. The fact that they had rented the house right beside the church graveyard further fuelled the distrust.

 

Being kids though, the trio never paid any attention to what the adults thought about the Changs.  Instead they adopted 8-year old Trish Chang into their group. In a matter of months, the trio had expanded to the quartet, while occasionally letting her little sister four-year old Evlyn tag along. Having lived in a number of cities, the Chang kids had a wealth of experience to share with the trio, and an attic full of unusual toys to show them. It was during one such escapade in the attic that Tom stumbled upon an ancient wooden board with alphabets, numbers, some words and a strange engraving in the middle. When they had initially enquired what it was, Trish had pointed towards Evlyn and refused to answer. However the next day, when Evlyn was asleep in her parent’s room, Trish had explained to them about the Ouija board and how it had been a gift from one of their neighbours in Lily Dale to their grandmother, who used to stay with them. When Helen enquired about their grandmother, Trish mentioned that she had passed away and that was the reason they’d shifted to Abingdon.

 

Curious as they were, the trio did not enquire about the board any further. It wasn’t till one cold winter’s evening that they happened to discuss the board again. The four of them were sat in Trish’s bedroom on the second floor which overlooked parts of the cemetery. It was nearing twilight when they noticed a strange apparition towards the end of the cemetery. Though Trish wanted to use her binoculars to find out what it was, Tom, who was the eldest of the lot stopped her. Fingering the cross on his chain, he had pulled the window shut and latched it tightly. As they wondered what to do next, Trish fished out the ancient Ouija board from under her bed and asked if they wanted to play. She mentioned that her grandmother had taught her how to use the board to beckon free spirits and they could ask them questions.

 

Though they were afraid, Helen and Anna agreed to give it a go. But Tom refused. Quoting Father. Jones from the Church, he added that as true Christians they were forbidden from making contact with the deceased. However Helen, Trish and Anna ganged up on him and teased him, which eventually led him to agreeing.  Asking Helen and Anna to follow a set of instructions,  Trish disappeared downstairs to find candles and a matchbox without her mother noticing. By the time Trish returned with the candles, the room was in almost complete darkness, barring a bit of light from a nearby street light. The Ouija board had been arranged as Trish had asked and the planchette (a small, heart-shaped flat piece of wood equipped with two-wheeled castors) was positioned too. Helen was sitting beside the board with a notebook and a pencil in hand to try to document any message that they could potentially receive.

 

Trish carefully placed four lit candles around the table that the Ouija board was placed on. Then she sat down and placed one finger on the planchette. She motioned for Tom and Anna to do the same. Making sure Helen could see the planchette from where she was sitting, Trish whispered to Tom and Anna to remain calm and not speak or make any sound. She also added that her grandmother had told her to think positive thoughts during the process to make sure that only good spirits communicated with them. Taking a deep breath, Trish spoke out loudly requesting the spirits to make contact with them.

 

Nothing happened for the first few minutes. Helen impatiently tapped the pencil on her notebook making a dull knocking sound. Trish glared at her and motioned her to be still. And then she made the request to the spirits again. A very mild cool breeze swept across the room, sending a chill down Anna’s spine. She looked around. The windows were still locked and the door was shut too. The air suddenly became heavy and Anna found it difficult to breathe.The flames of the candles started to flicker and then it stopped, almost as instantly as it had started. Certain that there was a spirit in the room, Trish requested the spirit to reveal it’s name. There was no response for a few moments. And then the planchette suddenly started to move across the board. Anna’s eyes widened and she looked at Trish and Tom, who both looked equally shocked. With their fingers still touching the planchette, it slowly rolled across the board and stopped over the letter R. Helen, who had recovered quickly from the shock, made note of the letter. It continued to move across the board, stopping briefly at letters “U”, “T before finally stopping at “H”

 

There was more silence as the quartet looked at each other, their mouths open in shock surprise. Both Anna and Tom motioned for Trish to stop. Instead, she continued, asking the spirit to reveal how they died. Suddenly the cool breeze engulfed the room again and the flames started flickering, one of them getting extinguished in the process. And then the planchette began to move again, slowly rolling over the alphabets turn by turn. Helen quickly jotted down the letters and as the message began to form, her eyes widened in shock. Suddenly there was a loud knock on the door and Anna inadvertently lifted her finger from the planchette, followed quickly by Tom. Though Trish’s finger was still on the planchette, it started vigorously moving across the board. Trish used her free hand to pull her finger off the board and quickly stood up, gesturing the others to do the same. The knock was followed by Mrs. Chang’s voice asking the kids to come downstairs for dinner. The quartet quickly glanced at the planchette, which had now stopped moving. But strange engraving on the middle (which Trish referred to as a Pentacle) had turned black and charred.  Trish replied to her mom that they were coming, grabbed the note-book from Helen and threw it onto the floor without bothering to look at the message. Quietly they exited the room, taking care to close the room behind them.

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After dinner, the quartet huddled together wondering if they should go back to the room. Anna noted that Helen had been particularly distraught during the meal. She looked like she’d wanted to say something, but Trish had warned them about not speaking about the Ouija board in front of her parents. Motioning them to follow her, Trish quickly climbed the stairs. As she reached the landing, she noticed that the door to her room was open. Without waiting for the others, she walked into the room. As the trio were starting to follow her up the stairs, there was a blood curdling scream from the room. The trio rushed up the stairs promptly followed by Mrs. Chang. Anna was the first to reach the room and she almost fainted at what she saw. Trish was huddled over beside the table which held the Ouija board. Near the table lay, little Evlyn clutching the planchette in her hand. As the rest of them rushed to help Evlyn, Anna walked up to the notebook that Helen had been scribbling the messages on.

 

It read “Would you like to SEE how I died?”

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It had been a whole month since anyone had seen the Changs come out of their house. The trio stopped by the house almost daily to try to find out what had happened to little Evlyn. But Mrs. Chang refused to let them in, just sending them off with the message that Evlyn was being taken care of. Trish had stopped coming to school too. Gradually, they stopped dropping by. The incident had petrified them and they couldn’t speak to anyone else. The entire community had been secretly accusing The Changs of indulging in voodoo and black-magic, but only they knew the truth. Unable to take it any longer, the trio had confided in Father Jones, who had promised to speak to their parents and make sure the names of the Changs were cleared.

 

A few weeks later, the trio watched as the Movers’ van sped out of their community gate loaded with the Changs' furniture. That was the last anyone in Abingdon had seen of the Changs.

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As Anna finished talking about her childhood and the Changs, Erik who had been silent up to this point,  asked , ...and how is this related to what happened today or your blacking out in the garage?" Anna took a sip of water from the water bottle. Her throat felt parched. "The Ouija board!” she exclaimed, "I saw it at the garage sale. It was the same one. It even had the black burn mark on the pentacle”  Erik remained silent as he pulled into his sister’s driveway in Denver. As he shut the engine and got out of the car, Anna too exited from the passenger side. They both walked towards the trunk of the car to pick up their luggage. As Anna pulled out her overnight bag, she glanced at the cardboard box of objects that Erik had bought at the sale. She froze as she saw an ancient wooden Ouija board staring back at her.

 

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[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "On a weekend road trip, far away from home, you stumble upon a garage sale in a neighborhood you’re passing through. Astonished, you find an object among the belongings for sale that you recognize. Tell us about it. ”  ]

 

Image: http://www.morguefile.com/creative/bigal101

The Social Network

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London 

Phil’s right index finger scrolled up and down, indefinitely on the scroll button of his “Porsche” shaped mouse. Every few  seconds he stopped, seemingly taking a quick glance at what was written on the screen. Every other second, he continued to click the left mouse button to confirm his actions on the screen. He glanced at his watch. His report was due in a few hours. Though the stakeholder meeting wasn’t till Tuesday noon, with the looming long weekend for the Queen’s Golden jubilee celebrations, he had to make sure it was submitted by the end of day today. “Who allocates such mind-numbing number crunching jobs on Friday afternoon?” he thought as he continue to scroll through the almost infinite list of updates on his Facebook page. A like here, a like there, a smiley here and a frown-y emoticon there, he continued to do what he was well-known for, amongst his online friends for. Philip was a compulsive liker. All of his 1325 Facebook friends could rest peacefully assured that no matter, what they put up, be it a rant or a sarcastic comment, or even a outright accusation, they were guaranteed at least one like. Oh, and a favourite and re-tweet if they were on Twitter. Though he didn’t give his “compulsive disorder” any thoughts, he found it strange that some of the people on his “friends” list were concerned if there was a delay in his “liking” their update on Facebook. Deep down, Philip knew he wasn’t doing the right thing, and that he needed to actually read and understand the update before he decided whether to hit the like button or not. But that just seemed like a lot of hard work, for someone who had over 1000 friends on Facebook.  And so far, in the three years he’d taken this stand of “liking” everything that his “friends” put on FB and Twitter in a bid to be more popular, he was yet to make any grave errors in judgement. After all, he strongly believed that the people on his contact list had enough sense to put up only likeable stuff on social media networks. And his stand had paid its dividends too. He was more popular in the London social media circle, and people were constantly sending him friend invites and inviting him to groups and “social events”, which he rarely attended for the fear of being exposed as a compulsive liker. He glanced at the lower bottom corner of his laptop to check the time. His lunch hour had finished 15 minutes ago. As he was about to log out of Facebook, he noticed that one of his virtual friend’s had been tagged in a photo with his stunning blonde woman holidaying in the Bahamas. As he always did, he like the thumbs up button, adding another like to the photograph.

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Rishab Singh clicked on the refresh button on the browser to load the updates. He glanced at the time. He still had 30 minutes to go before his late-shift finished. As much as he hated working these strange shifts at the call centre, he secretly enjoyed the fact that he could get off with some of his perversions without people being privy to them. As the senior technical support associate for a prominent IT firm, Rishab often accessed their client’s laptop and PC, remotely to troubleshoot and had access to their sensitive information. As a techie, he found it incredibly silly that people still enabled auto-logins to their emails and social media pages. Of course, he wasn’t complaining. It made his job of tapping into their personal details a lot easier. He loved to secretly stalk people on social media. Whilst he didn’t sell any of the information for money or harass them publicly, he got a certain adrenaline rush from secretly being part of their life. His recent client was a middle aged man from London, who seemed to be some sort of a compulsive liker on Facebook. This characteristic of his, made him all the more interesting to Rishab. One of Rishab’s favourite activities was going through the activity log of his victims. It gave him all the information about what they had liked, commented and viewed. He looked at the last activity that his present victim had engaged in on Facebook. It showed that he had liked a photo. He clicked on the image, and waited for it to load. He took a sip of the cola that he still had left from his dinner. His eyes opened wide as the image of a sexy blonde in a two piece black bikini filled the screen. “She looks fit. And hot!” he thought as he looked at the title of the album which said “Holidaying in the Bahamas”. Feeling a bit aroused, he quickly flipped to the next photo in the album. And then his eyes opened wider. This time, it wasn’t the woman who had caught his attention. It was the image of a man, he knew quite well. It was their organisation's VP from the Amsterdam office. “Such a lucky sod!” he thought, as he hit the logout button on Facebook. “Philip Thomas, are you sure you want to logout?” queried the browser. He hit yes, leaned back in his chair and adjusted his jeans. He was going to need to relieve himself soon.

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Amsterdam 

Julia Gaspar looked up from her desk and tucked away a strand of her unruly brunette hair behind her ear. She’d been distracted by a knocking sound from her phone. She glanced at her desk, where the phone rested in its cradle. The screen had lit up showing that there were some pending Facebook notifications. She sighed heavily. She was starting to rue the day that she’d let Tony convince her to create a Facebook account and download the app onto her phone too. Though she’d had the account for almost three years now, she’d never been an active user of Facebook or any other social media platforms. She preferred the more old fashioned way of communicating with friends, such as telephone calls and text messages. However her husband, Tony, was the complete opposite when it came to having a virtual presence. He had an account with every known social media platform and was literally online round the clock. So much so, that even switching his phone to vibrate mode at nights was not an option. It had to be put on silent, if they needed to get a good night’s sleep. Even so, she’d caught him secretly updating his status and replying to comments at wee hours in the morning, from under the comfort of the blanket. His addiction really bothered Julia, but despite her numerous complaints and requests, Tony had not paid any heed, and still continued to maintain a very active online presence.  One of the things that she hated about Tony’s Facebook-ing activities was that he shared almost every single information online. From what they had for dinner to where they were going to holiday, Tony considered very few things off limits to be shared with his “virtual buddies”, most of whom he had never even met. And lately, he had started tagging her too. Though she didn’t regularly check the notifications, she suddenly felt a strange urge to do so today. It was Friday noon after all and she could do with some distraction. Tony had been away on busienss for almost two weeks, and he was due to come back tomorrow morning. She was excited. Not just because she hadn’t seen him for a while. She also had a very special news to share, one she hoped would make him jump up and down with joy.

Julia clicked on the Facebook Icon on iPhone. The familiar globe sign showed that there were 63 unread notifications.  “It better not be another darn Farmville or Criminal Case invite!” she thought to herself, as her screen started filling up with the notifications. A quick glance through the list of notifications showed her that most of them were rubbish invites to these virtual games that seemed to have taken the online world by storm. As she was about to exit the app, she noticed a Red “1” next to the icon that seemed to have the silhouette of people. From her little experience of using Facebook, she knew that to be the friend request notification. Wondering who it could be, she clicked on the icon. It said “Sarah Cole has sent you a friend request!”. It said that the request wad 173 days old. Sarah was Tony’s secretary and Julia had met her on a couple of occasions at Tony’s office parties. Julia had summed up that Sarah was someone for whom the title of “Social Butterfly” worked aptly. She was pretty, and extremely friendly, and always the heart of every party. And from what Tony had mentioned, she was an extremely capable secretary too.

Overcome by curiosity, Julia clicked on the accept button on the request. This led her to Sarah’s timeline which was filled with photos of her recent holiday, which by the looks of it, she was still on. As she quickly skimmed through the photos of a scantily dressed Sarah, she suddenly felt embarrassed. And a bit weird. She felt like she was spying on someone she hardly knew. After all, Sarah’s personal life was none of Julia’s concern. Yes, she had accepted her friend request, but it wasn’t in Julia’s nature to go through someone else’s life. She knew what Tony’s response would be to her question. “If they’re happy enough to share it with the world, then it’s not spying!”. Almost absentmindedly, Julia continued to go through the photographs. “She looks stunning in that bikini”she thought as she glanced at a photo of Sarah sunbathing on the beach. As the next image from the album filled her 5” phone screen, her jaw dropped. Holding Sarah in his arms and frolicking with her on the beach in Bahamas, was the photo of her husband, Tony Gaspar.

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[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "“Do you feel like you “get” social media, or do you just use it because that’s where all your friends and family are?” As usual, I have "twisted" it]

The Writer

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“There you are!” exclaimed Amit as he threw open the door to the terrace. “Everyone’s been looking for you. The event starts in 40 minutes. Come down, will you?” he added with a smirk on his face. Tina took a long drag of the cigarette and felt the menthol vapour fill her throat and windpipe. It was a welcome contrast to the chilly London air. She looked back at Amit and smiled. As he came closer, she blew the smoke onto his face. Amit instantaneously retched and took a couple of steps back. “I’ve told you not to do that. It’s bad enough that you want to kill yourself smoking. I’m not going to die from passive smoke. I love my lungs, thank you very much!” he said in mock anger. Tina shrugged her shoulders and turned back to the view she had been enjoying until Amit had suddenly made his appearance. She really liked Amit, but it was moments like these, she felt he was really uptight. “Leave me alone for a bit longer, Amit. I’ll be down shortly. I am calming myself down” she said, as she gestured to Amit to leave. As Amit muttered something under his breath and left, Tina leaned against the wall. She was going to have to somehow get through today. And from the looks of it, it was just the beginning. Having been an introvert all her life, she'd often politely declined being part of any kind of public gathering. But this time around, she hadn’t been able to excuse herself. After all, the event was being thrown in her honour. A glimmering light drew her attention to one of London’s iconic buildings - the Gherkin. Within minutes, lights of different colours and intensities had lit up the city of London. Standing atop the tallest building, not just in London, but also in Western Europe, Tina felt a strange surge of satisfaction.

The City of London at night : Google Image search

“It’s funny how things sometimes work out!” Tina thought to herself, as she wrapped her sweater tighter around her.  She’d never even dreamt of being a writer. Though she’d found solace in books, it had just been a much-needed escape from all the routine problems of her world. As she grew up, so did her choice in books. The Enid Blytons were replaced by other literary classics, which were then soon replaced by books on modern literature. Considering her love for the written word, she had often contemplated doing a degree in arts and creative writing or even journalism. The only thorn in her side had been her father. Though he’d been in the UK for years, the urban lifestyle hadn’t quite rubbed off on him. He was still very traditional and was adamant that he was going to get both his daughters married off as soon as they finished their basic education. Her sister, Nina, had been a really good painter and had been even offered a scholarship from the esteemed Slade School of Fine Art at UCL. But her father had been obstinate and in no time, she had been married off. Unfortunately for her sister, she’d fallen pregnant soon after and was now a homemaker looking after their two kids. Tina had known all along that she was going to have do something drastic, if she was to avoid her sister’s fate. So during her final year of high school, she decided to grab hold of a work internship with a London financial firm. Her father had vehemently disagreed stating that he’d almost finalised her marriage with a “nice Indian boy who had his own corner store”. “As if I’m a piece of property!” Tina had thought whilst she quietly packed her bags in the night to leave for London.

That had been five years ago. She’d only met her father once since, which was for the second birthday of her sister’s first child. The internship had gone smoothly and they had even offered her a full time position, which she’d quickly grabbed. Her penchant for numbers and ability to think outside the box had ensured that she was promoted regularly. She’d even managed to complete her business degree whilst continuing to work full time for the firm. And that’s when she’d met Amit. A few years older to her, he’d been pursuing his MBA in the same university that she had been enrolled at. Amit worked part time at a publishing company and she was often privy to a lot of gossip about stories that they had either rejected or ones that had been delayed indefinitely. It had initially been exciting to listen to the stories, considering her affinity for reading and books. Soon that excitement had turned into a reality check; a realisation that she should try her hand at writing. She was fortunate that Amit too pushed her to follow her heart. As with most newbie writers, she too had tried her hand at blogging. Amit had managed to persuade his publishing company’s editor to give some of her short stories a read, and fortunately for her, he’d been impressed. Shortly after, she’d started contributing articles for Metro & The Evening Standard. Buoyed by her almost-overnight success, she’d decided to write a romantic novella, which unfortunately had not found many takers. Dejected, she’d vowed never to write anything ever again. And she hadn’t, for almost a period of six months. But everything changed, late one winter’s night, when they’d encountered 7 year-old Monisha decked up as a bride in the alleyways of Brick Lane, in East London.

“Tina. It’s time!” Amit’s sombre voice snapped her out of her trance like state. Flicking the cigarette butt away, she slowly walked towards the exit to the terrace, where he waited. She smiled and gave him a tight hug. He smiled back and gave her a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder. Together they descended to the mezzanine floor of the Shard, where the event was scheduled to take place. Tina squinted against the bright spotlights that adorned the ceilings of the building. She saw Mark, her literary agent, pointing towards his watch and gesturing towards the seat that had been reserved for her. She slowly walked towards the front of the room, vaguely aware of the camera flashes that were snapping her every move. As she took her seat, she glanced absentmindedly towards the far end of the room. For a moment, she thought she recognised an elderly gentleman in a worn out beige blazer. Almost instantly, a photographer’s flash temporarily blinded her, and she was forced to look away. When she looked up again, he was gone. As she glanced down at the table she was seated at, Mark promptly slid across a copy of her best-selling book. “Great, another copy to sign” she mused as she slowly ran her fingers over the gold-embossed title of her book - “MONISHA”. Grabbing a pen from the table, she slowly turned the cover to write the so-called personalised words that she’d written at least a hundred times since the book released. Realising that she didn’t know who she was signing it for, she threw a questioning glance at Mark, who seemed to be busy on the phone. A small note slid out of the book and fell onto her lap. She picked it up and glanced at the hastily scrawled writing on it.

Click to view a larger copy

Teary-eyed, Tina looked up at Amit, who was smiling at her, a short distance away. She smiled back and silently mouthed "Thank you!" 

[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "Proud : When was the last time someone told you they were proud of you?"]

The Eulogy

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Connor smiled as he watched Karen, walk up to the stage. She purposely averted her glance from the long wooden rectangular box in the corner and slowly made her way towards the microphone where she carefully unfolded a square sheet of paper. “She looks a tad tensed” thought Connor as he moved away from the crowd and stood in a corner. Back on the stage, Karen was adjusting the mic to the correct height. Connor smiled again. Karen's OCD meant that she needed everything in a particular way. And if it wasn’t, she wouldn't be able to move on until it was set that way. As she fiddled with the mic on stage, Connor looked around from his vantage point. Karen's husband, David, was seated in the second row, with little Daisy beside him in her pram. Though barely a year old, Connor loved to spend time with Daisy. Her little toothless smile had frequently cheered him up when he was really down. And David, her husband was an amazing person too. Friendly and soft-spoken could be the words best used to describe David. Though it had been almost 5 years since David’s and Karen's wedding, Connor still remembered the day as if it had been yesterday. The beautiful countryside, the brilliant warm sun, the amazing food, gorgeous Karen in her flowing white wedding dress, and David in his quite un-traditional white suit all set the stage for the perfect fairy tale wedding. Father Monahan, who had presided over the ceremony then, was now standing next to Karen on the stage, whispering something in her ear. Connor looked around the church. There were lots of people who looked vaguely familiar; but strangely enough he wasn’t able to actually pin-point when or if he’d met them. “Well, it’s nice of them to come anyway” he thought. A sudden screeching noise from the microphone brought his attention back to the stage. Karen was getting ready to speak. And he had promised he would listen.

Image - GettyImages

Karen cleared her throat and leaned towards the microphone. “Thank you all, for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here today. My brother would have really appreciated this gesture. Forgive me, I’m not really sure how or where to start. Though my brother and I have always been close, it was our mother’s death that really brought us together. I was still a little girl when she passed away, and our father was in the hospital recuperating from a heart surgery. I still remember how I collapsed into his arms when he told me about the accident. Since then my brother has not just been my sibling, but also my guardian and best friend - quite simply, the one that I turned to for everything. He’s been my pillar of strength whenever I went through any downs in life, be it cheating boyfriends or chauvinistic bosses. He’s also been my ardent fan and biggest supporter. He’s been to every one of my music recitals, basketball games, and even chaperoned a bunch of us for our prom date. And as a friend, the fact that you’ve all come here today to pay your respects, even though some of you may have only met him a couple of times, speaks volumes about how he treated people. He was…..just….” Karen sniffled and wiped her eyes that were now filled with tears. Father Monahan whispered something in her ear again, and lightly patted her shoulder.

“I’m sorry!” she continued, her usually pleasant voice now sounded melancholy from the medley of emotions going through her. “As some of you know, over the past few months, since his return from South America, my brother had been plagued by illness. What was initially diagnosed to be an acute case of Dengue, soon turned into something severe. Though there was a brief period of respite from the the illness, it soon reappeared, drowning all our hopes for him. My brother was someone, who always believed that when he exited this world, it would be after he achieved a lot of things. Though his demise was untimely at just 38, I believe he left this earthly abode having achieved most of the things that he’d wanted to. And with that, I’d like to play a video that he recorded shortly before his death.”

 Karen took a sip of water from the glass that Father Monahan had placed on the table beside her. Father Monahan signalled for the lights to be dimmed and the screen to be lowered so that the video would be visible. On the screen appeared the faint image of a visibly weakened-man, with a scruffy beard and wavy hair. With a smile he gradually started to speak:

“Thank you all for gracing this auspicious occasion. Ok, who am I kidding? It’s a sombre event and you’re here to pay your respects to this dead man. Jokes aside, I must have done something right in my life, since you’re all here. So, yes, please kindly accept my gratitude, even if it is from beyond the grave, so to speak.

I know its out of the norm for someone to record their own eulogy. But I had to give my own versions of things as they appeared to be. My sweet sister Karen...bless her.... would have by now already delivered her own emotional version of how I was this “caring, amazing brother who was there through thick and thin for her”. Probably because I’m a little bit of a narcissist at heart, and because I really do care about her, I did not want Father Monahan to play this video, until she had give her version first. So thank you Father Monahan. I hope you managed to deliver this video in a timely fashion.

So keeping that in mind, let’s dwell on this :  A eulogy is just a speech written in praise of someone who has passed away recently, isn’t it? No, I’m not going to give you a Philosophy or an English lesson. I just want to make my reason for doing this clear before we go ahead. Most people write their eulogy with a view of making sure that they achieve their goals before they leave their mortal bodies. Unfortunately for me, I may only have weeks or days, before I’m called and so I’d say its a bit too late to actually write my own eulogy. But as with everything I’ve done in my life, I believe in being honest. And hence I would like to say what I think I need to be remembered for.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had my share of challenges. Yes, we’ve all had them, but let’s make this about me now. I’m dead after all. From my mother passing away when I was just ten, to having to take care of my little sister and my amazing, but not-so-physically-strong dad. No, don’t give me any pity. That was just the luck of the game called life. And I don’t regret for once having been born into this family. My mother, whilst she was there, has given me more than enough love to last my whole life time. Well, I don’t expect to cross 40, so anyway enough for 40 years….smile will you, if a dying man makes a joke, you are expected to laugh.

My father, though he too has been physically unwell post his cardiac arrest, has always been my biggest source of strength. He’s not a man of many words but he’s always there when you need him. It’s because of him, that I am what I am today ..or rather was by the time you see this. And as for my sister Karen, she’s really a sweetheart. She’s lucky to have found David who has promised to love her till death do them apart. And may even that death not be successful in parting you. And as for Daisy, I love her to bits and do remember to tell her that I will be looking down ..or up, depending on where I’m headed... on / to her.

Ok, that’s enough about you guys. This is my eulogy isn’t it? Ok, so as I was saying, I’m not this “gem-of-a-character” kind of person, that everyone has been describing me as. I believe that I’ve been a not-so-bad son, a good brother and a decent human being. But I’m human after all. Starting from my early childhood I’ve had my share of vagabond and rebel moments, where I’ve never been satisfied with what was going on. Be it when father got me that remote controlled car, which I was determined to open up to find out what was going on, or that Mony, the inflatable punching doll, that I quite literally punched the life out of. Though I was an average student at school, I believe most of my education was more…let’s say... practical in nature. I’ve always been someone who has looked for solutions.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work in a number of different capacities in a number of different organisations. Though in retrospect, I was often always either over or under qualified for these roles. So I must have really been someone who “interviewed well”. Or they were just desperate. Being an optimist ...yes, I will be one till my dying day.., I’m going to go with the “interviewed well” option. However it’s this “looking for a solution” nature that made me decide that I wanted to make a difference to the world. And I decided to start with helping the almost-extinct tribes of the Amazonian Basin, which as my experiences have demonstrated, isn’t really the best place to start helping. Well, unless you are looking to die. In which case, you’re pretty much in the perfect place. I kid of course. The Amazon Basin is a wonderful place. But in my case, it was just bad luck, and mosquitoes. 

There are some ways in which fate has been kind to me. Though I’ve been in a few “relationships” ...if you can call them that, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have been tied down by anyone. I say fortunate, not because I have an incessant need to be a playboy, but merely because with my short life span, it would have just been messy. So I suppose I’m thankful for that. If any of my previous girl friends are present here today, I would just like to say - thank you, for not pursuing me. I would have been a really bad investment to make.

To sign off ... forgive the pun…., I just want to take this opportunity to once again thank you all for being here. Irrespective of how long you’ve known me, you would have known this - I believe in happiness. I know death is not a celebration. But for once, I’d like to request that you try and remember the good times you’ve had with me and keep that memory of me alive. With that, I will take your leave. 

Oh, make sure you go down to The White Knight pub, by the river, to enjoy a pint of beer on me. James Finnigan, the pub owner has an open tab in my name. See, I told you I knew how to make you guys smile and happy. 

Curtains please, Father Monahan. It's time.”

As the video zoomed in to a picture of Karen’s late brother from a time when he was hail and hearty, she slowly walked back towards the stage along with an elderly gentleman, with neatly trimmed white beard and smartly combed hair. Connor watched as the pensioner slowly climbed up the stairs leading to the stage, using his walking stick for support. As the crowd of friends, family and well wishers slowly made their way over to the open, rectangular coffin by the side of the stage, Connor noticed the elderly gentleman slowly pull out a handkerchief from his jacket and wipe his eyes. After a few minutes, when the crowd had disappeared, the aged man walked over to the open casket. Connor silently moved closer towards the coffin. Though he couldn’t see the man’s face any longer, he seemed to be lost deep in thought.

In a subdued voice, the old man said “Good bye my son. Rest in peace!”

Connor smiled. “Good bye Dad”, he whispered back.

[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "Dearly Departed- Write your own eulogy"]

Dusty

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“Oh, Dusty! Stop doing that!” screamed Simi as she pushed him off her. Not one to be pushed away, Dusty persisted again. “Dusty, stop it, or I’ll throw you out this very instant!” said Simi, her voice now raising to the levels of a shriek. “Take it easy, will you? He’s just happy you’re back from your long trip!” chided Jai as he plonked on the couch to read the paper. Dusty walked up towards Jai and placed his head on Jai’s lap. Giving Dusty a slight rub behind his ear, Jai went back to newspaper.  Content with the tickle, Dusty, the Golden Retriever, settled down by Jai’s feet. Image courtesy - Wikimedia Common

“You encourage him to be over-friendly!” berated Simi as she got up the sofa and started walking away. “That statement shows that you don’t know a thing about dogs. Especially Dusty. He loves to be petted and he likes it when we take him out. But how would you know? You’ve been taught to look at dogs suspiciously” said Jai, his voice now raising. It angered him to no extend when Simi complained about his attachment to the dog. She’d never been completely game to opening their house to Dusty. But Jai had insisted. And now their 18 month-old toddler Sahil loved Dusty too. The three of them, Dusty, Sahil and Jai, often went for long walks when time permitted. Both of them especially loved the beach. Jai didn’t know what it was, but both Sahil and Dusty loved running along the beach. Though barely able to walk without falling down, Sahil loved to chase Dusty around. And from what he’d seen, Dusty loved it too. His wife, Simi, was a financial consultant and often away on business a lot. He was a musician, and hence had his studio set up at home. He enjoyed working from home, since it allowed him to spend more time with both Sahil and Dusty. And even though it had cost them a lot, they’d bought an apartment in the same block of flats as where Simi’s parents lived. Which meant someone was always around to look after Sahil. Dusty was another story though. Just like Simi, her parents were not that fond of Dusty either. Jai put his paper away and looked at Dusty, who was now tickling Sahil by trying to playfully gnaw at his feet. He heard Simi out in the balcony on her phone. “Probably helping some poor old sod pay less tax!” he thought. He looked at the time. It was 3 p.m. on Saturday. He got up from the couch and went out to the balcony. Simi was just finishing up her call. “ I’m going for a shower. Get yourself and Sahil ready. We’re going to the beach.” he said. “How come?” asked Simi, throwing her hair back. The action briefly took him back to when he’d first laid eyes on her at a wedding. He smiled and said “Because I want to. And Dusty could do with a long free run. He’s been cooped up at the apartment for the past couple of days”. “Oh, he’s coming too, is he? Well, fine.” said Simi as she walked back into the flat.

An hour later,

“Sahil, can you please get your shoes?” asked Jai as he slipped on his loafers. Though Sahil was very much still in the babbling stages, he could understand simple words, one of which was shoes. As he switched off the television, he noticed Sahil come over to him with something orange in his hand. As Jai held his hand out, Sahil dropped what he was holding. It was single orange shoe with an off-white add-on running vertically through the centre. Jai smiled and picked up Sahil so he could put the shoe for him. Once he did so, he looked at Sahil and asked “Where’s the other one?”. Sahil just stared at him with a blank look on his face. Jai slowly repeated the question “Sahil…..Where……is ……  the…..other….shoe?”. Sahil continued to look at him expressionless, which convinced Jai that he did not understand. Sighing, he placed Sahil on the couch and walked up to the shoe rack to find the other pair. After a few minutes of searching for the other pair, not just in the shoe rack, but in most of Sahil’s preferred “treasure-hiding spots”, Jai decided to go with another pair.

Jai took Sahil, placed him on his lap and attempted to remove the shoes. But Sahil had other plans. No matter how hard Jai tried, Sahil screamed and cried, every time Jai tried to unbuckle his lone shoe. Frustrated, Jai called out to Simi, to enquire if she’d seen the other shoe. Simi, who was in the middle of getting dressed, just shouted back saying she didn’t know where it was and maybe he should call up her parents and ask, since he was with them the whole of the previous day. After a quick phone call to his in-laws which failed to yield any further information about the whereabouts of the lone shoe, Jai looked back at Sahil, who was still sitting on the couch with the single orange shoe still on his foot. “Kids” thought Jai “Somedays, when they’ve made up their mind, they just don’t budge. Now where could this shoe be?”

As he stood there wondering what to do,he felt something tug at his jeans. He looked down and noticed Dusty was eagerly pulling at his legs as if wanting to show something. “Not now Dusty. We’re going out in a bit. I know you’re impatient to go, but I need to find this shoe” he said to Dusty. “What am I doing? It’s not like he understands my problem!” thought Jai trying to shake Dusty off his leg. But Dusty refused to let go. At  5 years, Dusty was almost grown up by dog standards. Standing at about 20 inches tall and weighing close to 60lbs, Dusty was strong. Jai, who was quite scrawny, found it difficult to withstand Dusty’s strength and was dragged towards the main door. “Fine, I’ll take you for a walk. But only for one round around the complex, ok?” he said sternly to Dusty, who had now left Jai’s jeans and was excitedly jumping around and scratching the front door. “Simi !” yelled Jai, over the noise of her hair dryer “I’m taking Dusty for a quick walk. Can you please watch Sahil for about 15 minutes?”. “You are what?” he heard Simi holler. And then there was silence as the hair dryer was switched off and Simi walked into the hall. “I’m taking Dusty for a quick walk. He needs to …umm….pee” lied Jai, hoping Simi wouldn’t overreact. “Fine! Leave Sahil here though. He’s all dressed up. I don’t want him to play in the mud again. But where is his other shoe?” asked Simi.

Jai sighed. He’d spent the last thirty minutes hunting for the shoe and he had just told Simi a little while ago that he couldn’t find it. And yet here she was, asking where the other shoe was. Somedays, she really needed to work on her listening skills. “I don’t know. And Sahil won’t let me remove this shoe and put on a different pair of shoes. I’ve tried and I’m giving up. You can give it a go” said Jai as he walked out of the door with Dusty on a leash. Pretending he didn’t hear Simi’s sarcastic comment, Jai shut the door noisily behind him and smiled. “I’d like to see her try to get Sahil to wear another pair of shoes!” he smirked as he got into the lift with Dusty.

Once they were in the play area of the complex, Jai took the leash off Dusty. “Go, finish your business and come back soon!” he said, as he sat down on one of the seats. To his surprise, Dusty just stood there, refusing to budge. “What, you don’t want me to sit now?” asked Jai as he got up from the seat. Slowly Dusty started walking, and Jai followed. It seemed random at first, but then Jai noticed that Dusty was purposefully walking towards the children’s play area. Wondering where Dusty was taking him, Jai continued to follow him. A few minutes later, Dusty stopped near wall that enclosed the children’s play area. He walked up to the wall, and looked at Dusty confused. Suddenly Dusty placed his front paws on the wall and tried to stand up on his hind legs, as if trying to scale the wall. Jai stood there confused. Was there something on the other side of the wall? he wondered. At 6’2”, Jai was much taller than the wall, and managed to peer over the wall. At first all he could see was the rather steep drop to the cemented bottom of the complex. As he was about to turn back, something caught his eye and he looked again. Down  there, on the cemented floor, lay the missing orange shoe.

Image - Vidya Sury

 

This fictional story is based on the picture prompt provided for Write Tribe's Wednesday Prompt. The picture has been kindly provided by Vidya Sury

The Red Carpet

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Merrick Kirk admired himself in the mirror once again. His hair dresser had done a fantastic job and his unusually wavy hair was neatly combed back with copious amounts of hair gel. His agent had insisted that he retain the goatee that had become synonymous with his last on-screen character, Robert Lance.  “I look dashing! he thought as he smoothened out his beard. “Now, where was Marcus with that William Westmancott suit? he wondered as he started prancing up and down the dressing room. This was his day, and he wouldn’t let anyone, much less Marcus spoil it for him. Glancing at the watch again, Merrick  sunk down into the sofa next to the dressing table. Marcus was late and he was going to pay for it. BEV_001_subnav-welcome2Marcus Driskoll rushed up the famous Rodeo Drive, clutching the ridiculously expensive suit in one hand and a boxed pair of Berluti handmade shoes in the other. As he waited for the pedestrian crossing to turn green, he looked at his watch. He was meant to have been back 40 minutes ago. He knew that although the fault lay with the shoe-maker, Merrick would put the blame onto Marcus, without so much as batting an eyelid. If he cared so much about time, he should have sent me with the car and the driver. Instead I get to run around like a headless chicken and have less than 30 minutes to get everything sorted. Well he can wait. " thought Marcus as he crossed the road. He could now feel the sweat beads start to run down the nape of his neck and he was sure that there were dark patches under the armpits of the navy blue shirt that he wore under his suit. I miss the old Merrick he thought as he covered the last few miles to the iconic hotel that Merrick was staying at - The Beverely Wilshire.

Merrick and Marcus had been best friends since their elementary school days. Hence it came as no surprise to either of their parents, when they’d both announced that they wanted to go to the same college in New York. Merrick’s parents, as always, had no objection. They had given him a  free rein and were happy as long as he kept out of trouble. And with his father’s real estate business booming, money was not an issue. The same wasn’t true of the Driskolls. Though not poor, the Driskolls weren’t that well off either. Mr Driskoll had his own garage where as Mrs. Driskoll was a teacher at Blue Hill Primary. Despite the fact that they would have to tighten their purse strings a bit, they still let Marcus join the same college as Merrick.

College life was a breeze for both the youngsters. And then Merrick had been offered his break as the second lead in George Calib movie, alongside the talented Alexander Richard. The role had come by as a pleasant surprise for Merrick, who had been the regular lead at all the shows that were being enacted by the local Drama and Arts club. But it had been Marcus who’d pushed Merrick to give the role a shot. He’d even prepped his lines with him and drove Merrick all the way to Los Angeles for the audition. So once Merrick was offered the role, he demanded that Marcus be taken on board as his own Personal Manager. The movie had been a huge hit and success had arrived overnight for Merrick. He soon replaced the likes of Alexander Richards and became one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. And Marcus too had enjoyed in the shadow of his friend’s success - the parties, the stylish apartments, the first-class travel, the girls and of course the money.

But this almost instant-stardom had brought about drastic changes in Merrick and Marcus was still struggling to cope with his new attitude. Merrick had become extremely conceited and had no respect for other people or their time. It seemed like success had gone to his head. Everytime Marcus had tried to broach this topic, Merrick had gone on the defensive and just pushed him away. “People like me, in spite of all this. They pay money to watch my movies and they throng the streets whenever they hear rumours that I’ll be visiting. Why should I bother being so humble? They love me the way I am” he’d said. And to add insult to injury, Merrick had even accused Marcus of having “being-sidelined" syndrome. His exact words were “You are just nitpicking because you are successful because of me. You’re just jealous because people notice me and not you. If it wasn’t for me, you’d probably be back home running your Dad’s garage. We’re friends, but remember who pays your bills too!” . For the sake of their friendship, Marcus knew that he should have just quit his  job then. However the Golden Globe Awards were just around the corner and Merrick’s last role as a tough NYPD cop had acquired rave reviews and the rumour mill was working overtime with almost everyone saying that he was in with a chance of winning the prestigious award, which was a pre-cursor to the inimitable Academy Awards. Marcus knew that if he quit at this point, Merrick would be in real trouble as there was no one else who better knew his schedule and requirements than him. So he’d played along and decided to announce his decision to leave once the ceremony was done.

As Marcus pressed the elevator button for the Presidential suite, he took note of his dishevelled appearance in the elevator mirror. His favourite Armani suit was now crinkled from having to carry too many things. His dark-tanned Tanino Crisci Lilian shoes now had streaks of white paint and dust from all the running about from the afternoon. Oh how he hated Merrick ! As he entered the presidential suite, he noticed that Merrick had fallen asleep on the sofa next to his dressing table. He hung Merrick’s suit in the cupboard and placed the box of shoes on the table. And then he proceeded to wake up Merrick.

“…You’re late! I knew I should have asked someone useful to go. You are trying to undermine me on purpose. You know that I hate being late and now because of you, I’m going to be. Did you at least get the right stuff?” yelled Merrick as Marcus woke him up from his nap. “Well, you can always make a fashionably late entrance” chided Marcus in response. Throwing up an obscene gesture with his hand, Merrick walked away to the washroom to freshen up. As he shut the door, he said “Marcus, at least make sure the car’s ready and downstairs in 30 minutes. Do something right!”

Marcus frowned and walked over to the french windows that looked out into Rodeo drive. The man had everything and yet he seemed to have lost his manners somewhere. Instead of thanking him for getting everything sorted at such short notice, he’d just had a go at him. And once he's  dressed up for the occasion, he’s going to get even more cocky. One day when he’s all dressed up wearing that smug attitude on his face, I wish I could throw a rotten tomato at him. That’ll bring him down to earth!” he mused as he rang the concierge desk to send for the car - A 2013 Rolls Royce Phantom. The perks of being a celebrity thought Marcus as he hung up.

As the elegant pearl white Rolls Royce Phantom drove up the hotel driveway, Merrick could hear the roars and cheers from the people gathered around the hotel.That’s for me. They are cheering for me! he thought. He could feel his pulse starting to race. He straightened his expensive white suit and prepared to exit the car. He needed to make this entrance. This was the beginning of even better things and he could not falter. I’ll slowly get out of the car, look around, give a curt wave and a dry smile and then walk up the Red Carpet he thought as the car came to a halt. He noticed that next to him, Marcus was fervently tapping his legs and wiping his palms on his suit trousers. “Marcus, get out and open the door for me. It’s time for me to get out!” said Merrick.

Marcus looked at him in shock. “But that’s not your Manager’s job. They have people for that!” he said. “ But I want you to open the door for me. So just get out and do what I ask you to do!” yelled Merrick. Teeming with anger, Marcus exited the car and walked around to the other side. And then he opened the door. Merrick exited the car in absolute celebrity fashion showing off his recently-whitened teeth, offering a curt wave of the hand as a way of acknowledgement and his gold-rimmed Ray Ban aviators reflecting the sparkling lights from the photographers. And then he started to walk - slowly and purposefully, making sure that all the attention was on him. Marcus followed him maintaining a suitable distance. This was going to be a long walk he thought. img-thingSuddenly there was a loud pop, followed by a strange hissing noise. Marcus felt a light mist on his face and held his right hand up in reflex to shield his face from any further spray. Though he couldn’t see it, he could hear some commotion just a few meters away from him. And then laughter. Confused, he took down his hand and looked ahead to ascertain what the issue was. And then he too laughed. Standing there in the middle of the red carpet, his $80,000 tailored white suit drenched with rust-coloured smelly water was the Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Title Role, Merrick Kirk. 


In case you’re wondering what happened, the Red Carpet was laid under the hotel’s patio, over which were the pipes operating the hotel’s old sprinkler system.  Unfortunately for Merrick, one of the ancient sprinkler valves opened up right as he was walking down the Red Carpet unleashing a spray of rust-coloured water. The cause for the sprinkler malfunction was ascertained due to the presence of a high wattage light being placed near the sprinkler head.

[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "Ripped from the Headlines - Head to your favorite online news source. Pick an articlewith a headline that grabs you. Now, write a short story based on the article.  This post has been inspired by the article Sprinkler soaks Golden Globes red carpet  "] * Images courtesy Google Image search

The Dare

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This was originally one of my late entries into the Notion Press Social Short story contest that concluded recently. Click here to view it on the Notion Press site. Whilst I didn't win, it did help me come up a few ideas for my next novella. I'd also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who took the time to read and vote for this story. I'm putting it up on my blog just in case you missed it.
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As he sipped on his coffee, Amit threw a glance at the table that was the source of all the raucous laughter. He smiled as he took in the scene. A group of youngsters, probably in their late teens, were huddled around one of the tables by the corner. Amit observed that, like him, they too had become frequent morning patrons of the cafe. From having observed them for a few weeks now, he knew that they were students at the nearby Rana Pratap Institute of Management. Though they were not dissimilar to other almost twenty-somethings, there was something about them as a group that had attracted him to them.

His pre-office ritual had not changed for almost three years now, ever since he’d discovered this quaint little corner cafe amongst the leafy suburbs of the town. He would promptly arrive at the cafe at 7am and order one of their classic breakfasts - soft boiled egg, a double egg-white omelette and wheat bread toast, accompanied by a frothy yet strong coffee served in an over-sized mug. And then he’d start to read the daily newspaper.

He had noticed this quintet gang, as he’d named them, a few weeks ago, when they’d first walked into the cafe. Though they’d initially seemed a bit lost, a few days later, they’d settled right in. They were a relatively happy and care-free bunch, with not too many concerns about the world and seemed only bothered about the present and having fun. Their easy-going nature soon gained them popularity with both the cafe owner as well as the staff. But Amit was yet to befriend them. After all, he was senior to them both in age and worldly experience.

As he took a bite of his omelette, he noticed that one of the girls in the group had untied her hair and the breeze from the open grilled windows was ruffling the curls lightly. One of the guys in the group leaned back on the chair and put his hands around the girl’s waist pulling her closer to him. Amit smiled as he thought, “Ah, the feeling of being young and in love.” Inadvertently he found his thoughts starting to wander back to his college days and Richa.

Imran, Lucky, Zoya, Richa and he were the five pillars who formed their notorious gang back in college. Hailing from middle-class families and with somewhat decent academic grades, they were really thick friends. Bound by a common love for movies, music and a fondness for getting into trouble, they were almost inseparable. And they were undeniably the most popular gang of students in college. Though they were all pretty close, Imran and himself had always had a special bond. Both of them were compulsive thrill-seekers, extremely competitive and always accepted a dare without even thinking of the consequences. They were automobile aficionados and formed the drummer-tabla couplet for the college band. Then there was Lucky, the geek of the group. A person of few words, he was often the mediator within the group and their official spokesperson. First cousins Zoya and Richa were both the brains and beauty of the gang and were often responsible for the dares that Imran and Amit blindly took on. Of course it had a bit to do with Amit and Richa's on - off relationship too.

Amit fell head over heels in love with Richa the moment he had laid his eyes on her. After a rather whirlwind dating period, the romance had literally fallen on its face when Richa requested that they move things a bit slowly and take a break. But as history (and the movies) have often proved, a guy and girl can only remain best friends for so long before they either break it off completely or find themselves back together. With Amit and Richa, fortunately it was the latter.

As he put away his cutlery, he was snapped out of his pleasant thread of memories by a squeal from one of the girls at the quintet table. “You should definitely do it! It sounds awesome. What’s life without a little thrill?” she asked. It was the girl with the wavy hair who’d spoken. “Be a man. Go for it. I’ll join in as well” said one of the scrawny looking guys addressing a rather well-built attractive young man. For a while, the young man seemed to contemplate what his friends had said. And then he spoke. “If you all say so, I’ll give it a shot!” he said with a beaming grin.

Amit smiled wryly. Sounded like the guy’s friends were setting him up with a dare. “For his sake, I hope it goes well!” mused Amit as he went back to his paper. Hard as he tried, Amit was unable to concentrate on his favourite Sudoku column. His thoughts kept going back to the dialogue that he had just overheard. Hearing those words again after so many years, brought back the memories. He still remembered the day vividly as if it had just happened yesterday.

They’d first heard of the secretive midnight motorcycle clash, when Ankur, one of their obnoxiously wealthy seniors had mentioned it to them. He had just bought one of the state of the art BMW super bikes imported all the way from the US and was bragging about its performance to anyone who’d listen. Being the bike-crazed young men that they were, Imran and Amit were both intrigued by the two wheeled beast. Further more, Ankur had even dared them to try and race him at the event. Though the details were sketchy, they both knew it was illegal, dangerous and influenced by the "Fast & the Furious” franchise which meant that they had more than enough reasons to take on the dare. After all, they lived for the thrill and the adrenaline kick that accompanied it.

The night of the dare had arrived quicker than they’d anticipated. The plan was for Amit to drive the first leg and Imran, the final one. They had zoomed through the first leg, taking third place, behind two other brilliant riders. Ankur and his friend had crashed out within a few minutes into the first leg. “…and that’s why you never ask an ape to operate heavy machinery!” they had mused. As Imran switched on the bike's ignition for the final round, he’d turned back and looked at Amit, who was riding pillion with him. “Hold on tight man. It’s going to be awesome!” he said as he throttled the powerful engine and took off in style.

As the strong wind tousled their hair, Amit held on tight to the back of the bike. Sitting on a slightly more elevated platform than Imran, he could see a bit further ahead and was Imran’s eyes for this leg of the race. As they zigzagged through the still heavy traffic on the highway at breakneck speed, Amit noticed that they had left their competitors far behind. The constant stream of tears running down his eyes from the breeze made it difficult to focus on what lay ahead. Eveything was turning into a blur of multi-coloured circles and light trails. But Amit knew he had to focus in order to ensure that they did not run into anything or over anyone. As he leaned forward to tell Imran that they were in the lead, he felt a strong force pushing himself to the right. "Imran must have taken a sharp left turn” he thought as he rubbed both his eyes on the sleeves of the cold leather jacket he was wearing. His eyes were struggling to cope up with the velocity of the air brushing against his face and he put his hand over them as if to shield his eyes from the wind. A loud air horn made Amit look up ahead again. An extremely bright and powerful light was careening towards them at rapid speed. As he leaned forward to warn Imran about the oncoming vehicle, he felt an abrupt lurch. All of a sudden, he was flying through the air and onto the path of the oncoming vehicle whose dazzling headlight completely blinded him. And then everything went dark.

“Dreaming, are we?” A husky feminine voice interrupted his thoughts bringing him back to the present. Shaking off the trancelike state he was in, he looked up at the lady and smiled.“Sorry, I was just thinking about something” he said. “So, are you ready to leave for work?” she asked, whilst tying up her brown coloured shoulder-length hair. “Sure. Let me just finish this” Amit said, as he drained the last bit of coffee from the mug. “Ok, let’s go”he continued as he shuffled about in his seat.

Having noticed that he was staring at the bunch of college kids on the adjacent table, she slowly walked around the table, stood behind him, leaned over and gave him a tight hug. “I know what you were thinking about. Let it go. You’re fine now” she said as she helped him put on his jacket. “I try..but sometimes it just keeps coming back” he replied as he pulled his gloves tightly over his hands. Amit knew that her words echoed the truth and it was time he’d made peace with what had transpired that fatal night.

As he slowly wheeled himself out of the cafe, following her to the car, Amit couldn’t help but smile. He was lucky to be alive and have Richa in his life.