It was a cold Sunday morning with the wind cold enough to pierce through your skin. After shoving the snow out of his driveway, Jacob went inside to change his coat. He had to get milk and if possible, some flowers for his mom, though looking at the white cover of snow around, he wasn’t very optimistic about it. After much deliberation, he decided to walk to the convenience store. He had moved there a month ago and had barely gone out, so everything was new to him. He wished he could interact with his neighbors but nobody seemed welcoming enough and he was a shy man himself, so he didn’t make any move either.
As soon as he entered the store, a loud car stopped outside. He looked behind to see one of his neighbors, Shawn, coming out of the car with the same frown that he always had on. He had big dark circles around his eyes and his hair looked unbrushed. Though, he did have the body and muscles that girls would drool over. Jacob found himself staring at Shawn, so he quickly walked to the dairy aisle to get what he was there for. The store was owned by a local shopkeeper. Not too big or fancy, just the essentials. He found a carton of milk at the lowermost shelf and was about to pick it up when he found another hand reaching out for it. He looked up to see Shawn standing close to him. Jacob abruptly stood up.
“You can take another one.”, Shawn said coldly.
“But there are none left. And I was here first so, I should be”.
“Yeah but I was going to take it first.”, Shawn said cutting Jacob in between.
“That’s not fair, man.”
“Welcome to the real world, nothing is fair.”
Jacob was annoyed but in some obscure way feels intimidated by him.
“Please let me have it. You came here by car; you can drive to another store. I really need it to cook my mom’s favorite dish today.”
“None of them are open and why do I care about your mom.”, Shawn replied in the same cold manner.
Shawn instantly regretted his words. His mom did mean something to him.
“I am sorry. Have it. I’ll buy something else for breakfast. I just needed it for my cereals.”, Shawn apologized.
He turned around to go to the packed food aisle when Jacob stopped him.
“Hey, you are Shawn, right? I don’t know if you know me or not but I am your new neighbor, Jacob. I am about to cook breakfast for myself; would you like to join me?”
Shawn took a whole minute to process the fact that someone invited him to his house. Nobody was nice to him around after the word got out that he is more into men. But then he realized that Jacob wouldn’t know about it yet, maybe that is why he was being so friendly to him.
“Yeah I have seen you around but you don’t have to do it out of pity.”, Shawn lied. He hadn’t just “seen” him around, he had noticed him from the day he had moved to the old lady’s house.
“Why will I pity you? Just because you didn’t get the milk?”, Jacob laughed, “I haven’t had a lot of company lately and I’d love to have you at my place.”
Jacob was amazed at how he was handling the situation. Contrary to his almost zero social skills, he was doing pretty well for himself. As for Shawn he still wasn’t sure enough but he accepted the offer. Jacob paid for the milk and they both got out of the store.
“Get in the car. I’ll drop you.”, Shawn said.
“You don’t have to pity me now.”, Jacob replied with a smirk.
Shawn’s face turned pink in embarrassment.
“Oh, I completely forgot you are from India.”, Shawn said, looking at the spices lined up on the kitchen shelf.
“I am not from India, but my mom was, so I have a taste for its food as well.”
“I see. Your mom was the only one around here who was kind to me, you know. May she rest in peace.”
“She was a sweet woman but what’s wrong with other people?”, Jacob asked as he poured the milk in a bowl.
“So, you don’t know, do you?”
“What? Should I be worried or something?”, Jacob laughed.
“Unless you are homophobic”
Jacob stopped momentarily but went back to cooking almost immediately. He took a deep breath and said, “Now I understand why Mom was so kind to you. She had already seen her gay son struggle a lot. She would have wanted to help someone like me out.”
Shawn stared at him with wide eyes. Is this why he was so attracted to him from the very start? He quickly gained his composure and replied, “Oh, I didn’t know.”
“That’s alright. I barely talk to anyone around. By the way, I hope you have a sweet tooth.”
They both spent the rest of the morning cooking and talking about their interests. Shawn is a banker in his mid-30s. He would barely get time to rest, hence the dark circles. Jacob is a freelance writer and apparently a great cook. He had moved to his mother’s house after her demise a month ago.
“What is it called again?”, Shawn asked for the fifth time.
“Kheer”, Jacob replied laughing.
Jacob had prepared an Indian sweet dish, Kheer, to celebrate his mother’s birthday. He had never visited India, but his Mom taught him how to cook Indian dishes.
“It’s so good I might as well crash at your house every day to have these.”
“You will always be welcome.”, Jacob said with a warm smile.
Five months down the line, both of them had found a companion in each other. Shawn wasn’t the aggressive person that Jacob had predicted. He was just, lonely. They both made a cute couple but none of them had confessed to the other. It was a silent understanding. Shawn would spend almost all his free time with Jacob. Jacob had finally settled into the place and even went around the city with Shawn.
On one such days, they were out on a walk after having dinner at Jacob’s house. Spring had arrived with its bloom and warmth. The two of them were walking around casually when their hands brushed against each other. They hadn’t been public about their relationship but Jacob didn’t care much about it. He was happy to have him by his side. However, he didn’t know what Shawn really wanted so he made a bold move and went ahead to hold his hand. An electric feeling ran down Shawn’s body. He instinctively freed himself and moved a little away from Jacob. Before he could explain anything to him, a lady approached Jacob.
“Aren’t you the boy who moved here a few months ago?”, the lady asked him.
“Uh yes, what’s the matter, Mrs. Allen?”
Both of them recognized her as their next-door neighbor. Shawn knew what was coming.
“Do you not know who he is?”, she said, pointing at Shawn, “Stay away from this one. I am saying it for your own good. He is a faggot.”
“How dare…”, Jacob started.
However, Shawn interrupted him in between.
“Leave, Jacob. Right now.”
Jacob saw the same hate in his eyes that he had seen six months ago. He tried protesting but Shawn was adamant. He had no choice but to leave.
Jacob’s mind was brimming with questions. Why didn’t Shawn tell that woman that they were together? Why didn’t he let him talk to her? Was he ashamed of him? He tried calling him, but he didn’t answer. His silence was making him angry and anxious but there wasn’t much he could do. Just when he thought of going over to his house, his doorbell rang. It was Shawn.
“Hey, what happened over there? Are you okay?”
“I just came over to give you the handkerchief that you left behind. And never try to hold me again in public. If you can’t do that, then maybe we shouldn’t see each other.”, Shawn said sternly.
Jacob’s world came crashing down. Everything was perfectly fine until Mrs. Allen showed up.
“You can’t just ask me to keep my distance from you. Give me a reason.”
“Because I don’t want you to. Is that reason not good enough?”
Shawn slammed the door shut, leaving Jacob teary-eyed. He stood in front of his door for a good five minutes before regaining his composure. After his mother’s death, the only person that he had let inside his walls was Shawn and for a moment, he regretted it. He went back to his room with the same loneliness that he had felt six months ago. Shawn’s room was visible from Jacob’s bedroom but it was pitch dark. Resigned, Jacob went to his bed only to cry his heart out.
Shawn was sitting on his floor with all the lights switched off and cried for nearly 20 minutes. And suddenly two When questions occurred to him in quick succession. When had he ever done what he really wanted? When was the last time he stopped caring about what others thought of him? He was gripped by sadness that he couldn’t bring himself to understand, a sadness that went deeper than anything he had ever known. Just when he thought for the first time in years that he had finally found someone warm and kind, he sabotaged it.
It was as if he was punishing himself for loving someone, for experiencing happiness, for being his own self. He got up to change his clothes and started emptying his pockets when he found Jacob’s handkerchief. In the chaos of the fight, he had forgotten to give it back to him. He was going to keep it back again when a red embroidery on a snow-white handkerchief caught his attention. He unfolded it and found two small letters etched in a crimson thread at the end of the handkerchief.
Tears rolled down his cheeks and soaked their initials. He cried. He cried at the top of his lungs for the first time in years and it felt liberating. The ocean of his emotions that he had long suppressed was finally coming out as a tsunami of tears. The dark circles that had vanished since came back yet again to make their presence felt.
With the morning came the sudden realization that whatever happened last night, was not a nightmare. Jacob’s body felt too heavy for himself. He dragged his body to the kitchen only to find nothing left to eat. His heart was hurting but his stomach was growling as well. He wore the jeans he had on yesterday and went out to get something. Spring was here, but Jacob couldn’t feel its warmth anymore. For him, winter had arrived yet again. He went into the convenience store with no clue what to buy, so he headed for the dairy section. As soon as he reached out to pick a carton of milk, another hand, a familiar one, stopped it. Jacob looked up to find Shawn in the same clothes that he was wearing yesterday. The dark circles and the ruffled hair reminded him of their first meeting.
“Jacob, I am sorry.”
“I am not just angry, Shawn, I am hurt.”
“I did all of that to protect you from getting hurt.”, Shawn’s voice was cracking, “I know how it feels to be called out names and to be ostracized by everyone. If everyone sees you with me, they’ll do the same to you. I don’t want to be the reason that people hate you. They don’t know about you yet, so why don’t you keep it that way?”
“I never asked you to protect me, Shawn. All I wanted was to have you by my side. Do you think I have not been called those names? But you know what kept me going? Love. And I found it in you too. But apparently, you don’t want it. We cannot change everyone’s sick mentality, but we can face it, together.”
Shawn took Jacob’s hand in his own and pulled him close. He leaned in close and placed his lips on Jacob’s. For the first time in a long time, Shawn wasn’t afraid of the eyes that were on them. He knew he wasn’t wrong. He knew his feelings were valid. He knew he was valid.
Jacob blushed and all the lost color on his face came running back.
“You didn’t have to pull out such a stunt, you know.”, Jacob said shyly while still holding his hands.
“Ah well, if I didn’t, you would have eaten kheer all by yourself.”
They both walked out of the store with confessed love and a carton of milk.
Have you ever heard of “Quantum Realm”? Or the Parallel Universe? I bet you must have heard of it. The quantum realm is nothing but a parallel universe or alternate reality. So today, I’m going to share a true story with you. But, let me ask a few questions first. Have you ever dreamt about you and your friends traveling together but in reality, it’s been ages since you last met? Or dreamt that you getting married but it’s not with the person you are getting married to in real life? All of these and more are associated with the parallel universe.
So here is my story. You might know that our planet earth is in a solar system. And there are thousands of such solar systems in our universe. But one thing is common with all of them, and that is a parallel universe. Meaning that each planet has its own similar copy planet. So let’s talk about me, my name is Kundal. A pretty weird name you might say but the story behind it is even more unique. After my grandmother passed away, my grandfather devoted his entire life to spirituality and meditation. He started to learn the art of focus and soul connection. Meditation and focus were his only priorities left in life. Everybody used to say that he was a selfless man, but I never knew when he got addicted to meditation and soul power. It is a divine trance that one can only achieve when he takes the path of selflessness. My parents were of a modern generation and didn’t believe in all those stuff, but they respected grandpa and his things.
Around 40 years ago, my parents were blessed with a girl child, my elder sister. My grandfather named her Kundli, which means the power of our soul in Sanskrit. My elder sister had learned the art of meditation and focus by the age of 10 and by 15 she had achieved ultimate salvation and had a powerful aura. But when she turned 20, nobody knew where she had gone. My parents had gone out to a party that night and later when they came home, they only found my grandfather. And he told them he had no idea where Kundli went. They searched everywhere but she was nowhere to be found. All her clothes and stuff were gone too.
It soon became evident that my sister had run away. My parents loved my elder sister a lot and due to a complicated delivery at her birth, the doctor had advised her not to take a chance with another child. But after the disappearance of their only child, my parents decided to go ahead and take the risk, and I am the result of that risk.
Unable to explain the disappearance of my sister, my parents made up a story and told our community that Kundli had been sent away to a boarding school for further studies. And after that day, my grandfather started to feel depressed and sad. He would lock himself in his room and cry for hours on end. Although I never had any interest in meditation and trance, to make him happy, I always sat with him and pretended as if I liked it.
One day my parents came and told us that they were going on a business trip abroad. My grandfather asked me to go with them and I really wanted to go too, but I had to stay back to take care of him. Then one night, I was watching a documentary by Stephen Hawking on Black holes. It was 11 pm and I decided to check up on grandpa to see whether he had taken his medicine or not. The door of his room was open but grandpa was nowhere to be seen. Then I noticed that his old cupboard was shifted, and what I saw behind it blew my mind away. It was a door leading to a basement. We never knew that there was a basement in the house. I decided to go and check what was inside. When I reached inside I saw a girl, in her twenties who was sitting in a deep meditative trance. And along with her was my grandpa too, sitting in the same meditative trance. I was shocked and flabbergasted. Suddenly grandpa became uneasy and he opened his eyes and was shocked to see me there.
“What is all this grandpa? And who is this girl?” I asked. “I will explain everything, but first let’s go back up.” He replied without hesitation. We got back to his room and he told me that 38 years ago when my grandma passed away, she had a last wish but before she could tell what it was she died. And grandpa knew that if a person’s last wish is not fulfilled then their soul keeps wandering forever in a sweet unrest.
He said that every world has a parallel world, and if in that parallel world, your grandma’s soul is still alive then I want to know what her last wish is. But to enter the parallel world, one has to go through a black hole. And it can only be crossed by an unmarried person, who is pure at heart. That’s why I taught your sister Kundli the art of meditative trance. That fateful day we were all prepared and ready; our souls traveled together into the parallel universe, and after some time I was not able to go further so she went ahead and we only communicated through telepathy. But as soon as she entered the black hole, my communication with her was lost. Her body is here on earth with us, but her soul is forever trapped in that black hole.
Every day I try my best to enter that black hole, but I am never successful. That’s why I tried my best to teach you the art of meditation, but you were never interested in it.
Hearing all this I was left shocked and speechless. I promised my grandpa that I will bring back my sister and told him to teach me this art the next day. Then I went back into my room and searched the internet all night long. An “Outer body experience” and much more was what I came up with on the net. After hours and hours of research and studies, I learned quite a lot about black holes. Now I only have to learn the art of meditation.
The next morning, I went to grandpa and told him that I can bring back my sister, but can’t go into the parallel universe and that our grandmother who he wants to find in the parallel universe may not be the same as she was here. And her last wish might also be different and I don’t think it’s worth the effort. He was surprised and shocked at the same time, and asked me how I knew so much about this stuff.
“The Internet, grandpa” I replied with a huge smile on my face. “People have shared such similar experiences and that’s how I came to know all about this.” Finally, grandpa and I sat down and started to focus and meditate. After struggling for almost 6 hours my soul came out of my body and it was truly an out-of-the-world experience. I could see my own body! Then, grandpa took me to the entrance of the black hole. What I saw the instant I entered erased every sense of sanity I had left. It was dark and cold. I could feel the emptiness and evil down there. I ventured deeper and found thousands of souls who were lost and trapped and all longing for salvation and freedom. And lo and behold, among the lost souls I found Kundli, my sister! I introduced myself to her and told her everything. She was overjoyed and beyond happy but asked why I bothered to come to this damned place? “It’s impossible to leave this black hole once you are in,” she said worriedly.
”No”, I replied. ”I have done all my research and I know how to find our way out. This place is a typical black hole and the only way to exit it is through the white hole. This black hole rotates at a very high speed and changes its entry portals every minute. While entering the black hole, I noted down the exact entry point and it will open up again exactly after 30 minutes. We only got 5 minutes left and we must hurry!” I concluded, sounding a tad terrified with my heart hurrying in my chest. Finally, the portal appeared and we were able to escape. It all happened in the blink of an eye, and we were back in our bodies!
We opened our eyes and were overwhelmed to see each other for the first time! And grandpa was there waiting all along for us. The three of us hugged and rejoiced at this wonderful moment. “Sorry grandpa, I couldn’t venture into the other world to find grandma”. Kundi said in a small voice. It sounded like the voice of a child who cannot help herself. “it is me who should be sorry my dear child, I’m sorry that I endangered your life by doing such a foolish thing. But thank God for Kundal. He is the one who made it all possible. And today we are back together, all thanks to your brother”! Grandpa said with a widened grin.
And the feeling which filled the three of us at that moment was joy and triumph.read more
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves”
We cannot control our destiny, but our destiny controls our fate. Our world has many mysteries and miracles, and a thousand things still unknown waiting in the dark, yet to be discovered.
It was a dark and cold evening up in the Misty Mountains, where it seemed like the clouds had almost engulfed everything within themselves. And within the dark forests was a small and shabby cottage, in which lived a boy named Oswald. He lived all alone as he was an orphan. He didn’t have any friends and nor did he like going to the town. As he was not as lucky and privileged as the other children. He was always the one being bullied because of his looks and circumstances, which were not in his control.
He used to wonder, will he ever live happily. Or will he ever live the life he had always imagined? He used to hope that all this was a bad nightmare, that he would wake up one day, and that it would all be changed. But alas, every morning reality hit him hard. He was tired of this life where everything and everyone was against him.
One night, after having his dinner, he was comfortably sitting in front of the fireplace, reading a book when suddenly he heard an extremely loud sound, like a huge explosion. He rushed out of his house to see what it was and he was flabbergasted by what he saw. It was a huge rock that looked like a meteorite and it had crashed from outer space into the forest. The impact had created a huge crater and everything was as hot as lava with smoke everywhere. Oswald was rendered speechless by this sight; afraid and nervous he ran back into his cottage hoping he would be safe inside. He couldn’t sleep at all that night. The entire time he was glued to his window and hoping nothing or nobody would come out of it, meaning harm to him.
Then the next morning, Oswald gathered all his might and strength and decided to see once and for all what was this thing that had crashed here on earth. The meteorite had now cooled down and he was now able to see that it was a huge ball, with spikes and a protective coating all around. Then out of nowhere, the entire object started shaking and rattling! Astonished and terrified, Oswald ran and hid behind a tree. And then with a gush of smoke and loud screeching noise, the ball opened and revealed a beautiful and divine-looking egg. Oswald breathed a sigh of relief and was finally at ease. He then decided to have a look at the egg. It was truly a thing from the heavens, and Oswald had never seen something like this, something so beautiful! He took it out of the meteorite and decided to take it home with him.
A few days passed by and nothing happened to the egg. Oswald’s curiosity and excitement grew day by day. Then finally one day while cleaning the egg, he was curious and intrigued by the sheer weight and mysterious designs on the egg, so he decided to open it once and for all. Now the big question was how to open it. He tried to pop it open by tapping with a stick. But nothing happened, then he tried to hit it with a stone but to his surprise, it was still intact! Now getting more and more impatient he picked up the egg and smashed it with all his might on the floor.
That immediate moment blinding bright light emitted from the egg and loud mechanical noises started to fill his ears. Shocked and scared he maintained his distance from it and very cautiously started to approach it. What he saw inside blew his mind away and everything started to spin around him and suddenly everything went black!
Disoriented and hazily Oswald started to get up and look around, and he realized that he had fainted. He had started to gain his balance back when out of the blue he heard a strange voice say “Hello”. Startled by the voice he frantically started to search where it came from when his eyes struck a tiny little creature looking like a doll. Oswald was not able to believe his eyes and thought this was a dream.
He started mumbling “this is not true! This is not happening!”. And the tiny creature replied, “Don’t worry, I come in peace, and yes I am real”. Out of words and shocked, Oswald asked who was he and why was he there. The creature then started to tell his entire story. His name was Artemis and he was from a planet called Zorba. While traveling on a mission to another solar system his spacecraft collided with a meteor storm and thus caused the crash which made him reach earth.
Oswald was amazed and bewildered by the thought that life exists beyond our universe. Artemis then asked him if he could help him repair his spacecraft so that he could head back home. Oswald was very curious and wanted to learn more about his planet and home. Artemis then told about his homeland which was a beautiful and harmonious planet just like the earth with magnificent and glorious wonders! He told how his people were all equal and nobody ruled or controlled them. Their society and culture were loving and close-knit. Hearing all this Oswald was excited beyond anything. He then promised Artemis to help him repair his spaceship and do whatever was required to get him back home.
A few days passed by and Oswald took very good care of Artemis and looked after his each and every need. So, one morning while Oswald was getting ready to go to town to get some things from the market, Artemis asked if he could tag along and get to see how his world and people were. Oswald agreed but asked how would he go with him without being noticed. That’s when Artemis revealed that his people possessed certain powerful abilities and one of which was to become invisible when needed. This blew away Oswald’s mind and they got ready to go.
When they reached the town, Oswald was going around buying the necessary things when some of the kids started to bully him. They teased and taunted Oswald and made fun of how he looked and how he was just a filthy beggar. Humiliated and terrified Oswald ran away from them as fast as he could. In the evening Artemis noticed how glum and broken-hearted Oswald was. He approached Oswald and had a good heart-to-heart talk with him explaining that he should never let those people into his mind and affect his life. But Oswald was truly broken from the inside. He had no one here to support and console him. Now, seeing all this Artemis decided something that would change the destiny of Oswald once and for all.
“Would you like to join me and come to my planet?” asked Artemis to Oswald. Astonished and shocked, Oswald was speechless. A thousand questions were racing through his mind. He got up, stood for a moment, and told Artemis that he would decide his answer and let him know by morning. That night was one of the most stirring and electrifying ones of his life. But by sunrise Oswald had made up his mind. He got up and went to Artemis, and asked only one question. “Will I ever be able to visit earth again?” And Artemis replied “No”. He then took a moment and asked how will he fit and manage to travel with him in the spacecraft which clearly was not capable to accommodate him. But Artemis had a lot of tricks up his sleeve, and he possessed the power to change the size of objects. Oswald already had faced enough cruelty here and wanted to start a new beginning and this was his chance. This had been his destiny all along and now it was finally time for him to achieve it. And after a long and exciting conversion, Oswald agreed to join him and leave behind this world.
The day finally came when the spaceship was ready and it was time to go. Oswald and Artemis spend the entire morning soaking in the bright sun and enjoying the beauty of their surroundings. And finally, Artemis spoke, “Are you ready?” “Yes” replied Oswald. And with a bang and boom, Oswald was shrunken to the size of Artemis. Ready to depart on a new and wonderful beginning, Oswald had a last look around and got in the craft. “To a new beginning,” Artemis whispered, both of them smiled and started their journey to leave this world behind into the great unknown. Now how and where Oswald is today remains a story for another time!read more
Location Costa Azul: sandy shores, windy ambiance, icy ocean; two men worked a speedboat across the deep waters of the Pacific. All seemed aligned; all seemed perfect, except for the fish.
They hadn’t caught any.
This was their third day on the waters. Fishermen from Mexico loved to camp close to the waters. They each had their season, and once your season was up, you withdrew for other fishermen to take turns.
Santos and Felix had been stuck here for three days finding fish. Today was their last day to fish. If they failed to catch any, they would have to contend with the local authorities. in form of fishing taxes. Because whether or not you caught fish, the local fishing tax had to be paid. This was the dilemma these two hardworking fishermen faced.
Santos was the older of the two fishermen. At 42, he had gone fishing in these waters for close to 20 years. In fact, fishing here was all he knew. Fishing was his late father’s occupation, as well as his great grandfather. Still, none of these men had ever gone fishless.
This situation was a rare mishap.
His apprentice, Felix, was only a young adult, a 20-year-old man who already had more kids than he could feed. Felix was indifferent to the whole no-fish thing. If the young man failed to catch any fish today, there were numerous other opportunities available to him like night-time robbery or cocaine distribution.
Santos did not have the luxury. He needed more than fishing money. Fishing was his family’s only sustenance. His wife was already stretched thin by her measly-paying teaching job. Santos was the breadwinner; he had to provide or his two adolescent daughters would starve.
He stood at the edge of the boat and peered into the endless water beyond his line of vision.
“A little further?”
Felix shook his head. “It’s getting late sir. We are already five miles offshore…” And then as if receiving divine wisdom from above, Felix changed his mind. “Well,” he said, “it wouldn’t hurt to paddle a little further.”
Just like that, they ventured a little further into the ocean, with the view of the shoreline shrinking with each sputtering of the engine. It was only 3 pm, so there was plenty of sunshine to fish and more than enough time to return to shore. Here, they began to cast their nets yet again. Usually, they waited an hour or two before drawing their nets but out of impatience, they did so in thirty minutes; no fish.
“A little further,” Santos suggested. And a little further they went until the view of the shoreline was lost to them.
Still, they could find no great quantity of fish, only five salmons, about ten dozen worms, and an immeasurable number of seaweeds. It was finally time to call it a day. So they headed back to shore.
But the ocean gods had different ideas because almost immediately, the ocean waves wobbled and a storm ensued.
Navigating a storm wasn’t their problem; they were veterans after all; they could navigate this one like many other storms they had encountered in the past. The problem was their motor. Their little speedboat managed to make it a few miles to the shoreline, and then the engine stopped. Now, this was a really big predicament. They could see the mountain peaks in the distance; the detail of beach houses and the bustle of distant human figures.
Yet they could not move. They were trapped in the middle of the ocean with no means to reach the shores. They couldn’t paddle either; the ocean currents were just too strong.
The storm was ravaging now. It was about to rain heavily; suddenly 5 pm was looking like 8 pm. With no other speedboat in sight, one thing became clear to Santos and Felix; they were screwed.
Felix offered to call the port authority with the speedboat’s radio transmitter, and he did. After the call, he received some assurance: “They’re on their way,” he asserted.
What they didn’t know or were aware of was that, with each passing moment on those waters, the ocean pulled them farther away from shore. So much that in half an hour, they could no longer see the shorelines. Santos noticed this and called the port authorities yet again, who then confirmed that they had made a sweep and saw no speedboat.
Santos begged them to do one more sweep to which they agreed. Luck wasn’t on their side because the waves crashed hard against their boat and almost swept them overboard. Although the boat stayed intact, its radio system went with the waves.
Truly, now, they were… screwed
“Jesus! We’re fucked!” Felix grunted; his hands pulling at his silky ebony hair in unimaginable ways. He was a chubby lad whose jowls now quivered with fear.
Santos tried to calm the situation. “Control will find us,” he cooed, even though he believed otherwise.
This was the start of a 400-day journey that none of them saw coming.
They realized their fate after the storm ended, sometime around 4 am the next day. Santos had never felt so alone amidst the wobbling ocean waters. Sounds here came out muffled as the steady swooshing of water reverberated around the observable ocean landscape. The ocean current pushed their boat further and farther away from land and towards the very heart of the ocean at the western end of the world.
It became clear as day that Santos and Felix were lost in a labyrinth—one with no corners.
“What do we do now?” Felix asked, frustrated, after pulling at the generator for the millionth time.
And so they did for two weeks, surviving on nothing but fish blood. They even ate the fish raw—the irony, now they saw plenty of fish after so many days at sea. But even the net had its breaking point. After being exposed to intermittent sunshine and rain for a week, the net crumbled into a heap of sand. Now life was truly unliveable.
After a month and a half of floating around the Pacific, Santos and Felix knew they were going to die; it was only a matter of time. In that period, Santos and Felix aged twice their age—their bodies shrinking into scarecrows. Fish was harder to catch without a net—not that they saw any. What’s worse: they were now drinking urine but even that was becoming incredibly hard to come by without proper hydration.
Life felt fragile and neither of them knew how long left they had to live. But they were very fine dying in each other’s company—because, really, did they have a choice?
Until Felix couldn’t take it anymore…
“I can’t eat this filth. I can’t drink urine no more—I can’t, I just can’t!”
They seldom had these ranting episodes where they complained about their predicament. But that was expected; two months on the ocean could drive a person mad. What could the other person do but stay quiet? And this is what Santos did, keeping mute when Felix lamented, until one night, the young man slipped overboard and drowned in his sleep.
Santos was now alone. But as things often happen in the world, an unfortunate happening can lead to bountiful blessings. This was the case for Santos. Because the next day after Felix’s death, and the day after that; and after that for weeks and months, the ocean bubbled with fish; and Santos ate his fill.
There was suddenly hope. All he had to do now was wait patiently for an intercontinental trade ship to come his way. One day, after drifting for 13 months, Santos’ luck shone through; rescuers came to his aid. But he was too delusional to recognize it.
All he could think about was how good the fish tasted.
“Do you speak Anglais?”
No answer. The two sailors looked incredulously at themselves, as they watched a grizzly man sit still on a septic speedboat chomping hard on stale fish. Was that even fish at all?
When they tried to touch him, the grizzly man stared at them like ghosts for a second, before returning to his meal. There was dried blood everywhere on parts of the boat and bits of hair here and there. There were also semblances of what was a rib cage. Were they from a shark?
The first man shook his head kindly. “I’ve never seen a person so demented. How long do you think he’s been stranded?”
His second shrugged. “I don’t know; a month?”
Then they stared at the grizzly man in silence a bit.
“We should get him overboard,” opined the first.
They hauled the man between themselves and walked the plank up to their ship. The whole time, the grizzly man muttered words they couldn’t really put together. But when they got him hydrated, fed (with real food), and sedated, the words became clear.
The grizzly man, whose name was Santos Emilio, kept repeating the same words. “He tastes just like fish.”
Who, they asked.
In a swooning tone, just before he fell asleep, Santos now smiling sheepishly from the effect of the medication administered to him said dreamily to his rescuers. “Felix—Felix tastes just like fish… He really does…”read more
It’s 2045, and dogs have been given animal rights. Dog shelters were replaced by dog homes. You could no longer walk into a place and order a bunch of dogs. You had to apply for adoption. And with every adoption, comes a ton of paperwork; a couple of home inspections; and a hefty adoption plan payment.
Dogs had lawyers. Yes, lawyers. Treat your dog wrong, and a lawyer was sure to come filing charges. When that happened, your dog would be returned to dog’s home. And just like that, you could lose your best friend.
I didn’t really care about all that. I treated my dog like I would a child. Marie was a sweet little silver-haired poodle. My mom, a vet, had found her limping in a neighborhood not too far from home. After treating Marie personally, my mom fought for custody and won.
But Marie didn’t hang around mom much these days. Mom worked late hours so I was responsible for Marie. I bathed her, fed her, and took her out for walks, which she enjoyed very much.
The vegans said animal rights would change the world for the better. It truly did but no one saw it turning out this way. Dogs were suddenly very rare, as most of them were locked in dog homes owned and regulated by the government. As with every government, there was some level of corruption in the system. To successfully acquire a dog, you would have to pay money worth a mortgage down payment.
Citizens figured it wasn’t worth it, especially when money-hungry lawyers sent dogs back to dog homes for the slightest mistreatment.
My evening walks with Marie brought a lot of attention because, in 2045, you don’t get to see a dog outside that regularly. Dog guardians had a morbid fear of seeing their dogs taken away from them, so they kept their best friends indoors. Even my mother warned me countless times not to take Marie out.
But I couldn’t stop. Every time Marie and I took a walk, people showered us with adoration, food, and money. As a nineteen-year-old, waiting on college, walking Marie was my only source of income. My father passed away a long time ago, so mom worked overtime to pay the bills. I, on the other hand, contributed to grocery shopping. So, mom never really complained too long about me walking Marie.
Today, Marie and I visited the park, as we always did. I sat on a bench and tossed Frisbees for Marie to catch. I was doing this when an adult man sat next to me. He looked eerily familiar beneath his furry coat, a wide-brimmed hat, and black shades. His shoes had gold buckles that glistened marvelously with the little trinkets adorning his frail fingers.
This was a very wealthy man, the type to stay hidden in a huge mansion in the hills. As I fantasized about his earthly possessions, the man craned his neck to have a better look at me.
“Is that your dog?” his voice was a rusty thing that was never used often.
“Beautiful,” he said.
“Thank you.” Marie was returning to me, with the Frisbee in her mouth. I retrieved it and threw it again, and she bolted like the wind.
“I like experiments,” said the man, all of a sudden. “Do you like experiments?”
I applied for Astrophysics in college, so I nodded.
“Great,” said the man, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a jotter-like book. On closer inspection, I realized it was a checkbook. He began to scribble in it.
Uneasy, I began to refuse.
“Relax,” he said, folding the cheque. “It’s just an experiment.”
“And what’s the experiment?” I asked, a little bit curious about the figure written on that cheque.
“Well, my wife—the new one—doesn’t believe in animal rights. She says dogs are just pets, and can’t think straight for themselves. I am of the inclination that they can… think. To carry out this research, I am willing to offer fifty thousand dollars for your dog’s participation in my study.”
I had never been in possession of more than two hundred bucks. Hearing fifty thousand mentioned so lightly made me dizzy. I refused at once, standing to leave.
“But you haven’t heard about the experiment yet.”
I sat down quietly watching Marie return with the Frisbee once again. Instead of tossing it this time, I kept it; and placed Marie on the bench to my left, shielding her from this dangerously rich man.
“I want to take your dog home; beautiful thing; show her how I live. Offer her some steak, maybe—look how skinny she is…”
I raised an eyebrow in disapproval.
“Pardon me. I love dogs and have quite a number of them. But— listen— here’s the experiment. If you let me have your dog, I’ll take good care of her. However, every night, I will leave open my back door to facilitate an escape. If your dog returns, then we’ll know…”
This sounded crazy. “Know what?”
The rich man shrugged, “Then we’ll know if dogs really deserve animal rights.” He rose at that moment, tucking the folded cheque into my breast pocket. “My address is in there; if your dog doesn’t return, you can find me and turn the check-in for her.”
“Why should I trust you?”
The rich man began to walk away. “You don’t have to trust me. You have to trust your dog. If she returns, you can keep the cheque. If you agree, just tie her to the bench post.”
I watched the frail man saunter toward the center of the park. He stared comically into the pool where some ducks were gathered and started tossing bits of cake. I read the check, and true enough, there was an address and fifty thousand dollars scribbled in bold handwriting. Marie stared at me the whole time, panting impatiently. I stared back, losing myself in her black beady eyes.
Did she really love being with me, or was she, as vegan opposers say, ‘just a dog?’ I tied her to the bench post as I rummaged through these thoughts.
I guess I had nothing to lose. Either way this turned out, I could redeem Marie. I kissed her one last time and left the park. I couldn’t bear to look back at her. But I promised myself that if she called after me, I would return.
Marie didn’t utter a sound, not even a whimper.
Is this already a failed experiment?
I took the first bus headed to the bank. In a matter of minutes, the teller confirmed the authenticity of the cheque. Then I walked home, as the sky darkened, hoping to slip into bed when mom was already asleep. At that time, I hoped Marie would have returned home, waiting for me with belated eyes.
Instead, I met mom tidying up dinner. You’re late, she said, and then inquired of Marie. In the yard, I lied. Mom had no reason to not believe me, so she bade me goodnight and went to bed.
I stayed awake, peering through the windows for signs of Marie walking into the lawn. I saw nothing. I felt myself tremble. Had Marie abandoned me? I had visions of Marie dressed in an apron, eating steak and caviar from a gilded dog bowl. I imagined her gliding around a marble-floored mansion, playing gleefully with the other dogs. Would she ever want to leave such a life behind?
Would she ever return?
I wasn’t waiting to find out. I grabbed the check and slipped out of the house. It was just shy of eleven, and the streets were emptying out. I raised my hoody because of the cold, and walked, fast, toward the park. The rich man’s house was miles away, and there was no getting there without a vehicle.
So I cooled my initial aggression and sat on the bench in the park, waiting for Marie. After waiting for about an hour, I gave up and walked home. Marie wasn’t coming today, and I wasn’t sure she would ever come back. I had sold my best friend, and I felt nothing but shame. Was there even any point going back to get her if she didn’t want to leave?
I thought deeply about these things as I hurried home. All I wanted to do now was sleep it off. I was pushing open the apartment door when I heard a woof in the distance behind me. It was a familiar sound and I stood quietly for a while to ascertain what I just heard.
I heard another woof, this time closer. But it was still too dark to figure out what it was. And just then, out of the darkness came a jogging silver-haired creature.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. She jumped into my arms and I fell to the ground laughing and crying. Marie came back after all. She licked my face and I laughed even more. Our squeals woke mother up, because she stared out her window on the upper floor, angry and with a cucumber mask on.
“Jerry, what are you doing out there?!”
I looked up at her, tears in my eyes and Marie in my arms.
“Mom,” I said, waving the fifty thousand dollar check, “Marie just made us rich!”read more
It had been almost 3 years since William and Olivia got married. But both of their families were still infuriated to this day because of their decision to marry without their permission. It was not like William and Olivia didn’t try to get their parents to agree to their love marriage, but when all their efforts were bearing no fruit, they decided to spend their lives together. True love can never be contained. However, there was a price that had to be paid for this decision, which was being separated and cast off from their families forever.
After losing his family and their support, William decided to get a job in a small private company to support their lives. The company in which he decided to work for providing him with a small yet decent apartment to stay. And together William and Olivia decided to make that apartment their small but sweet abode. Soon after they were blessed with a baby boy, who they named Noah. After Noah’s birth, the ice that was frozen in their relationship with their families started to melt off a bit. Olivia’s parents decided to forgive her and they started visiting them too. Their relationship was once again on track. But despite all the circumstances and happiness in their family, William’s father was still angry and this changed nothing for him. Although William’s mother and his younger brother and sister often visited him, they made sure their father never came to know of this. Often times they used to call and share their feelings and rejoiced with happiness. Life was moving at a good pace and everything seemed to be moving in a positive direction.
It is often told that when a person’s time is not going in their favor, then problems automatically line up one after the other. The company which William was working for had suffered a huge loss and they decided to furlough some employees and bring down their costs. Unfortunately, William was one of the unlucky employees who lost their jobs in this process. This incident of losing his job in such a manner broke William from the inside. Being the only earning member of his family, this was a huge blow to him. Due to stress and the building pressure of being unemployed, William’s behavior and attitude started to take a toll, making him unpleasant and rude.
This incident started showing its effect on William and Olivia’s relationship too. After losing his job, both of them started having quarrels and disagreements on almost a daily basis. The things which often both of them used to ignore earlier were now the topics of heated arguments and fights. Often times their bitterness grew to such an extent that they didn’t talk to each other for days. And on the other hand, despite multiple efforts, William was not able to find another job.
One night, Olivia told William that she had been talking to her mother about their condition. Her mother suggested that William should come and meet his father-in-law as he had a friend in Chicago, who had a few connections and could provide him with a job. This infuriated William and made him scream that he didn’t want the help of any of their relations. He wanted to do everything on his own. “This is all their trick and a way to make us feel inferior!” said William. Now annoyed and pushed to her limits, Olivia too burst out asking where was everything? What fruit had his efforts brought them so far? She was disappointed in him because he refused to accept help from her father and thought of it as an insult to him. Olivia told William that her father had visited them and Noah numerous times because he truly cared for them. “Have you forgotten that 3 years ago these were the people who had abandoned us, and now you want us to accept their help? Said William hotly “So, what is wrong with that? He was angry with our decision then, but at least he is trying to help us now in these difficult times!” said Olivia. She screamed that William’s father had not even come to see his grandchild once. Quarreling and fighting, they forgot about Noah, who was terrified and crying while watching his parents fight. Olivia then stopped arguing and picked up Noah and went to their kitchen. Seeing his son cry on his mother’s shoulder, made William realize something deep within his heart and he couldn’t bear all this anymore.
The next morning, Olivia woke up to the sound of Noah and William playing happily. She instantly had a wave of happiness on her face. And then William said that nothing is greater for him than the happiness of his love and child. He agreed to visit her father and leave for Chicago the next day to arrange for the job. To their surprise, Olivia’s family had come to visit them the very next morning. Leaving all their differences in the past. They had a lovely time together and William was given the details and address of the person and where to go in Chicago.
The next day while packing for his trip, Olivia asked William jokingly what will he be getting for her from Chicago. And he replied “anything you want”, as he had not given her any present for almost a year. “A dress from that famous store near Downtown” was all that she asked. “Your wish is my command,” said William happily. When ready to leave for the airport and while saying their goodbyes, William hugged Noah and Olivia and promised to be back soon. He left to catch his flight.
After reaching Chicago, William went and met his father-in-law’s friend and spent almost 2 days with him. Then finally the moment came and he got a great job offer, just like he imagined. William had to join in a week’s time and now had to go get his family back from Detroit. After reaching the airport ready to board his flight, William decided to call Olivia. He told her all about how he got the job and they had to move to Chicago. Excited and happy about the news, they were talking when she asked him about her present and if he had bought that dress. William had totally forgotten about that. And then Olivia got angry with him and she was saying something when they got disconnected.
After a while, Olivia and Noah were watching TV and suddenly an emergency news broadcast came about a flight that had crashed. It had taken off from Chicago and was headed toward Detroit. This sent shivers down Olivia’s spine. This was the flight that her husband was on. She immediately called the airport authorities and started inquiring about the accident and whether there were survivors. But to her shock and horror, nobody had survived that crash. All the passengers were dead. She was left in tears and the ground beneath her was shaken. The last talk that they were having had ended in a fight and now she had to live with that regret forever. How could she ever forgive herself? Broken and shattered she fell on the floor, and poor Noah couldn’t understand anything that had happened to his mother. She cuddled with Noah and kept on crying, and later passed out.
Later in the middle of the night, suddenly, Olivia’s phone rang, and to her shock, it was William calling! She was trembling and didn’t want to pick up the call as she was expecting to hear the authorities who would inform her about the accident, but it was not them. The voice she heard blew her mind. It was William! Overjoyed and in tears she couldn’t believe this! Confused and baffled she asked him how was this happening. And that’s when William explained that he had canceled his flight to go back and buy that dress she had asked him for. He could not come home and disappoint the love of his life, and he decided to get that present for her. After all, it was an occasion to celebrate. Buying a dress saved William’s life today. Then, he took the next flight home and couldn’t call her as his phone’s battery died. Olivia started crying with joy and could not believe that such a miracle had happened. William came home shortly after that and they hugged and cried tears of joy for a long, long time. The happiness and joy in that house were out of bounds. And that’s how true love saved a man’s life!read more
“Is this the place?”
The car pulled up close to the empty lawn of an abandoned house on Elmer Street. This was one of several houses acquired by the Keystone Bank in New Jersey. It was also one of the many abandoned houses in that desolate cul-de-sac, the forgotten extreme end of the state; a hollow mirage of the country’s fun-filled occupancy.
People believed this house was haunted.
“This is the place.”
“Not a very bright residence.”
The banker stared in disgust at the resident. He had never seen an apartment so dreary-looking. Knee-length grass from the lawn adorned the rusty metal gate at the entrance. One thing was clear: no one had lived here in long while. The building itself stood two stories tall, having twin window-shattered towers that overlooked the street.
It was half-past six, almost twilight. Already, one of them was super impatient; and it wasn’t the banker.
“See, this is a bad idea,” said the banker’s assistant, a small man with whiskers, who deliberately kept the engine running. “Let’s just head back to the bar; it’s karaoke night…”
But the banker, a burly man who acted on impulse rather than thought, waved away the suggestion. “If this house is haunted, I want to know. I can’t believe you even believe that bullshit about ghosts.”
“It’s no bullshit. I told you, last time I was here, I heard really strange noises;—the type of sounds you hear if you were stuck in a cave somewhere.”
The banker laughed. You’re an idiot, he confided in his assistant. He was going in regardless. It was his responsibility to prepare the bank’s newly purchased properties for construction—his job depended on it.
He stepped out of the car slowly, urging his assistant to do the same. Once out of the car, the banker surveyed the environment one last time. The building was a mess all right, but it wasn’t irreparable. At least he thought so.
Satisfied with the view, he turned to his assistant. But he couldn’t get a word out because his assistant shrieked suddenly.
“Did you see that?” he said, pointing with shaky fingers at the two towers.
The banker followed his assistant’s gaze. “See what?”
“Up there, at the tower.”
He stared again in that direction… and saw nothing. He shook his head.
“I swear,” said his partner, shaking like a leaf. “I swear to God, John, there was someone standing there, watching.”
John slammed the passenger seat door closed. “Let’s go Rob. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we get home, kapeesh?”
And that was that. His assistant fell in line like a puppet and followed John, quietly, through the gate. John wasn’t a coward. His father was a war veteran who believed in two things: God and a gun. As his father used to say; Nothing was beyond the control of God; even if there was such a thing, it could always be resolved with a gun.
John, the banker touched his belt just in case. He kept a loaded magnum there for emergencies. No one, not his assistant, knew he carried a gun around. He was more than a banker; he was the fixer. To him, a haunted house meant nothing.
They broke open the gate’s rusty padlock; waded through the spiky grass and landed at the foot of the doorstep. A placard inscribed with strange writing dangled lightly from the doorknocker. The words were queer but the message was clear and simple: “Ghosts Live Here”.
John chuckled. The whole thing was a farce. “Ghosts write on planks now? Puh-lease.”
Rob preferred not to speak. The house terrified him; the story behind its abandonment even more. Ten years ago, a ghastly fire accident took the lives of a dozen homeless children. The fire was so great that it rendered the entire neighborhood inhabitable. The stories that followed this incident weren’t great either.
Sometimes people went in and never came out the same. No words could explain what went on within. Frankly, no one could accurately explain the situation, because who, in their right mind, would believe a ghost story? Definitely not John, who recoiled when the door swung open unaided, screeching a sonata.
John smirked. An empty living room with charred cobwebbed furniture, ceiling, and floorboard opened up before him. He saw no one.
“I thought Ghosts were discreet,” he joked. “But these don’t lock their doors?”
Entering the apartment just then, Rob rebuked his co-worker. “We shouldn’t speak so much in here.”
“Why not,” said John raising his voice a decibel higher. “There is no one but us—Jesus! What was that sound?”
A deep growl emanated suddenly from the upper room above them. But it wasn’t a familiar sound it sounded like it echoed from the heavens. Like the sound of ocean slapping against the hull of a ship but very vague as if from a distant world. Anyone would shudder at the sound of such sinister sound. But that wasn’t what startled John.
He heard his words trailing off in an otherworldly echo. Rob had heard it too, because he kept a foot out the entrance door, just in case. He pleaded for an exit but John refused. They were yet to see the upper floor. Failure to do so would have been a waste of gas, John thought.
However, the house wasn’t finished with them. A burst of sonorous laughter followed the echo. It sounded very much like a middle-aged lady trying to sing while her teeth scraped against the wood. This chilly voice came from the end of the room where a spiral stairwell connected both floors.
Again, no one was there.
It’s getting late, John remembered. The time was now past 7, the sun had long set, and the lights in the moonlight sky illuminated the ambiance below. Fear started to creep in. If I die, I die.
“Come on Rob, up the stairs now.”
“Because…” John said. “Well, I don’t know!”
Then they heard the laughter of children somewhere in the back. It’s the sort of laughter a group of children would give a teasing adult, but with a melancholy feel to it. Immediately, they turned swiftly to where the sound came from. Again, no one was there.
“We know you’re there,” said John approaching the staircase. “Come out now and we won’t press charges!”
The moon was out now in full force. The night sky blackened. Not much time was left until the loss of visibility. John knew he had to move fast if he was going to make it home in time for his wife’s dinner. So, he motivated Rob to come along and soon they began to climb the staircase.
Astonishingly, there was no single person on the upper floor or at the foot of the stairs. All they saw was a rat scuttling past.
“See?” said John gloating to Rob, a few feet away, “there’s no one there.”
It didn’t take long for John to bloat, because when he turned back to the staircase, a white cloak stood there, with slits for eyes, watching them intently. John had never seen anything so frightening before.
“Jesus Christ!” He said, reaching for his gun before shooting rapidly at the wraith-like monster.
The bullets did nothing. They went clean through the wraith-like hot knife through butter. The wraithlike figure bobbed its head once, twice; swayed its frame this way and that, like a salsa dancer before vanishing into thin air. John knew it was time to leave.
He and Rob ran for their lives, their hearts thumping madly in their chests. They tripped over the doorstep, tripped over the grass, and even stumbled comically at the metal gate. They arrived at the car in perfect condition and then watched for a moment to see if they were pursued.
Rob panicked. “You brought a gun? Are you mad?”
But John’s eyes were fixated on the towers where the wraithlike figure stood watching. And then it disappeared again.
They started the car and took off, never to be seen again down that alleyway. On the drive, John confided in his assistant. “This is a haunted house… it really is.
“Are you okay?”
“I think so,” said the frail man, wiping beaded sweat off his forehead with the back of his palm. He was as thin as a broom, with a beard heavier than his head. “That was really close. I could’ve died!”
“Were they cops?” his second asked. He was even thinner than the first, albeit bald.
Flicking on his flashlight, the frail man inspected himself and then surveyed the machine on the table at the center of the attic.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think so. If that guy had been a better shot, I would be swimming in my own blood.”
The bald man, with the nose of a pig, came out of his hiding place in the dark. He too came around to inspect the machine.
“Wow! It’s destroyed.” He exclaimed.
The frail man nodded grimly, picking up the broken pieces of the machine. The bullets had made a clean connection, and all that was left of their precious holographic projector was an unrecognizable lens. The bald man offered to fix it.
“No,” said the frail man. “It’s irreparable I think.”
“But—but they’ll be back!”
The frail man looked out the window. “I suppose; with real cops this time. We’ve overstayed our welcome, I think.”
A series of curses, and then: “Back to the crack house, I guess?”
The frail man nodded. “I believe.” And then he tossed the machine to the corner where it crashed into dozens of other broken objects. “But it’s been a pleasure living in this temporary house of ours. Who would have thought a hologram would cause this much trouble?”
The bald man laughed; his teeth a myriad of colors. And then his expression changed because he remembered something queer. “Say, did you hear that sound before? It felt like children crying…”
The frail man shook his head. “I was too busy getting shot at, remember?”
“I thought, at first, that those men had brought some kids along. But then that’s ridiculous. It scared me though. It felt like a dozen children were crying out for help—I mean, we’ve only been here two days, but… do you really think ghosts live here?”
The frail man laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Ghosts aren’t real. Besides, we leave tomorrow. Probably best we get some early shuteye.”
And then they turned in for the night, sleeping on nothing but tattered rugs, using makeshift aprons as blankets. This was only their second night here, and already they felt at home. It hurt them plenty, knowing that they had to return to the crack house the next day. The thought was so heavy on their minds that they soon fell asleep.
It was a very short sleep, not one they enjoyed too well because very soon they woke up to the sounds…of children crying.read more
5 am looked so bleak. A crystallized sky with dark clouds hung over the quiet city. In New York, no matter where you stood, you could always hear the chatter of birds, the incessant shutter of doors and windows, the onrushing honking of cars, and the rhythmic shuffle of crowds. This was a city that never slept, that never kept quiet.
But today was different; the noises Sarah grew accustomed to in the city were only now a floating conversation in the wind. That signaled something…
Sarah exited the balcony of her penthouse in the city, her satin robe brushing against the tendrils of her crimson rug. She was a well-renowned psychiatrist in the city, the type to earn two hundred thousand a year—minus consultation fee. She literally worked thrice a week at the city’s biggest hospital.
Her home was just underneath the blue skies at the biggest guesthouse in the city. She shared the apartment with her pet poodle which enjoyed human privileges and ate half her pantry. She loved her dog very much, and for a while watched the little thing sleep snugly on a little cushion at the corner of her glasshouse.
She took a cold shower next and made herself some coffee, before preparing a script for her new physiotherapy patient scheduled that day. Today’s patient was a spoilt teenage kid whose cocaine addiction rendered him a threat to society. It was her job to determine the extent of the kid’s mental deterioration and recommend a proper rehabilitation center.
I don’t need a script.
She was too good at this job anyway. But it wasn’t that. Something didn’t feel right today. It wasn’t the weather either. She just couldn’t place it. Coffee only made her more anxious, so she returned to bed, and laid there for a while. She woke by 6 after hearing something move, only to realize it was her poodle climbing into bed with her.
Around 7, she woke to the sound of rain. She usually clocked in by 9, so she had enough time to slip into her work clothes. She sat up and watched the rain for a while, thinking about her patient for the day. Then she went and turned on the television. After scrolling through music videos and telenovela shows, she tuned in to CNN.
Breaking news revealed details about a murder. It was the last thing she wanted to hear. Without even waiting for the details, she turned off the television and went for another cup of coffee. She whipped out her phone and scrolled through her messages on Tinder. Could you blame a lonely lady like her for finding love?
After swiping left on a couple of pictures, she tossed her phone aside and went back to working on her script. It still felt shallow, but she finished it anyway. Better to be prepared than caught napping during a psychotherapy session.
At half-past 8, she slipped into her work clothes: a brisk turtleneck and a dark brown skirt over polished leather boots, with a brown supple coat to keep her warm. The rain was so heavy that it didn’t fizzle out until past 9. She was late, but it wasn’t a bother. Her office was only a few hundred yards out from her apartment building, with a clear view of the hospital’s rooftop from her balcony.
Usually, she walked to work. It made little sense to drive to a place five minutes away and get stuck in traffic for a quarter of an hour when she could just stroll. Today was different; she didn’t want to get caught out in the rain, which threatened to fall any moment now. So, she called a cab and waited for it to arrive.
The cab arrived in three minutes, at about the same time the office called. Her patient had just arrived. But there was more: the patient had tendencies to cause a tantrum when kept waiting for too long. Rich people’s problems.
“I’ll be there soon,” she told the office.
She soon discovered that this promise was a little out of her reach. The rain had damaged a street light pole on the way to work, and the fastest alternative route was a further ten minutes away. By her calculations, she would make it to work a quarter to ten, almost an hour past her session.
Sarah had never been so late before. She urged the driver to step on the gas and offered him more money if he made it to the hospital quickly. The driver was good at his job; after maneuvering past the main road, he entered another equally trafficked boulevard. At least, here, she was closer to work. Her phone rang even more.
Sensing tension, the driver switched on the radio. The same murder news was on. She might as well listen.
“Turn that up please?”
Obliging, the driver added his own commentary. “The news is everywhere. The guy who’s been killing therapists is back.”
She froze and waited for the radio to confirm this horrible truth. Anyone else, an engineer, an accountant, an Uber driver, would have listened to this particular news with passive attention. For Sarah, this was a lot more personal. As a therapist herself, she felt truly afraid for her life.
Sarah found the news nerve-racking. This was the killer’s third victim in as many months; this being his most active period yet. Over a period of two years, the stone-cold therapy killer had murdered a dozen female therapists in their offices. The autopsy report was the same every time; he made his victims commit suicide.
How no one could tell. His motives, no one could fathom. All Sarah knew was that the killer was deadly and he was in the city.
As she rummaged through her thoughts panicking, she failed to realize that the driver was just now pulling up to the curb of the hospital avenue.
“Stop the car!”
Immediately, the driver pressed the brakes and checked to see if she was okay. She wasn’t. She alighted the vehicle swiftly; her head spinning and bent over the pavement in a bid to catch her breath. The driver hurried out of the car to offer assistance.
“Give me a minute!” she shouted, a little too loud, immediately waving her hand in apology.
Her world started spinning uncontrollably. The killer’s last victim was a long-time friend of hers. They had attended the same medical college in the city. Hearing news of her friend’s murder sent her into shock, and she struggled to understand the occurrence. Why she heard herself asking. Why!
The driver beckoned closer once more. His car was parked awkwardly on the road, and he needed to move it. Her phone rang incessantly just then; the office was calling again. She regained herself and hopped into the car, and allowed the driver to pull into the avenue.
She was being paranoid. The hospital was super secure, with a number of uniformed officers parading inside and outside the premises. All therapists in the hospital worked on the highest floor, the fifth floor. Matter of fact, the hospital had only one entrance and exit. This was a safe place. The killer, she surmised, wouldn’t dare enter such an open place. If he ever did, he would get caught.
Here, she was safe. She believed that—she needed to believe that.
After paying for her fare, she dipped her head low and walked towards the hospital’s entrance. At just that moment, her patient stormed out of the hospital. She recognized the little kid from the pictures sent from the office. In pursuit of her client was her supervisor, Doctor Trevor.
But the spoilt little kid had had enough waiting. Cocaine withdrawals was a really bad thing, Sarah realized, as the kid kicked a dustbin onto the road. Doctor Trevor tried to secure his investment, but the kid just wouldn’t listen. The security intervened and dragged him away from the hospital entrance.
Doctor Trevor turned on her, his face flushing red with anger. “Where have you been?”
Sarah shrugged. “There was an accident on the ro—“
Her supervisor held a hand up for silence. “I don’t want to hear it. You’ve just cost us a good client. His father is a Silicon Valley investor.”
There goes my pay rise.
Doctor Trevor sighed. He began to walk back into the hospital. Sarah caught up with him before he could enter the building.
“I’ll take the next available client.”
Trevor shook his head, and then stopped a few feet away from the hospital’s entrance to have a smoke. “Madison’s got that one covered. They’ve just started a session.”
Doctor Trevor noticed her intrigue. “Well, this client’s a queer one; doesn’t look mentally disturbed. If you ask me, he looks perfectly okay, mentally. Beats me why he requested the best psychiatrist.”
That’s me, Sarah opined.
“Of course,” said Doctor Trevor, “But he was so impatient; so I handed him over to Madison.”
Sarah nodded approval. Madison was the second-best psychiatrist in the hospital. She and Sarah often shared details of their client’s cases. Madison was truly exceptional at her job. There was no better person to deputize her position; that she knew.
After his cigarette, Doctor Trevor ushered Sarah in. But they never got past the doormat, because a sudden crash, followed by a heavy thump, behind them caught their attention.
“What in God’s name is that?”
They retraced their steps and almost wished they hadn’t. Accidents happened all the time in hospitals. Sarah had witnessed patients throw trays of medicine out the window. But this, this was different.
Someone had fallen off the fifth floor in a hail of shattered window panes.
It can’t be.
Doctor Trevor knelt beside the body of the fifth-floor suicide jumper. He gasped at what he saw. He didn’t even have to tell Sarah, she knew whose corpse that was. Right there, before their eyes, was the bloody frame of Anna Madison.
She looked up at the fifth floor, and sure enough, there was a person standing at the foot of Madison’s office enjoying the procession. She stood there frozen and afraid, as Doctor Trevor requested immediate help. Sarah took a step back to catch a good glimpse of the therapist’s killer.
Before today, the killer had been a wave in the news; a detached story from her reality; someone else’s problem; a distant dagger in Sarah’s heart. Today, she could feel nothing but hatred as the killer jumped off the top office, sealing his own demise.
This was the killer’s endgame, and she had only dodged a role in it by a second.read more