As the fight for the LitSoc Shield (and hostel glory) draws to an end for the semester, T5E presents all the top five winning entries under the Prose category of Creative Writing(Solo). Find the winning entries in Poetry here.
By Anvitha Reddy – Sharav
“It was in 2011,” the woman says at last.
He looks up from his report. He doesn’t expect her to speak at all; he’d decided it right at their first meeting, four years ago.
“Mrs. Karupa, this is excellent news indeed. This will help narrow our search greatly. I would—”
He stops himself from asking if she’s sure. No use putting her off just when she’d spoken, for the first time in hundreds of meetings. Besides, even if she isn’t sure, it’s still a better lead than anything they’ve got.
“Do you remember when in 2011?”
She looks at him with runny but piercing eyes. Again, he is struck by the all-too-familiar feeling of being read, of something he should know being held back. After so long an investigation, some lines are bound to soften, and it is now his absolute conviction that the woman is saying very little of what she knows. Her sidestepping and concealing is always so subtle, that experienced though he is [in this line of work], he has no strong grounds to accuse her on.
Sometimes, on bad days, he’s tempted to clip his handcuffs on her and book her as a suspect. But of course, his charges would be thin. Besides, as much as she frustrates him, he’s someone she is fairly comfortable with. Not even the suavest of the guilty can seem to have so low a guard.
She narrows her eyes and chews slightly on her lip. Abruptly, she steps to the window and throws back the curtains, as if wanting to jump-scare someone at the window. But there is no one, of course. No one in her shack except the two of them. She has no living family now. Not since the missings. He shakes his head at the weirdness of it all. Four years on the case and it still gets to him.
Having had her fill of the weather, Karupa draws the curtains closed just as sharply and returns to the table, pinioning him with her gaze again. He stifles a sigh. By now, he is used to her eccentricities. He sometimes does discreet checks on her property—not much to it, though, just the shack and the vegetable patch. He’s convinced she doesn’t even own cigarettes.
“It was late September,” she says. “I had two children, a brother.” He notices she is sitting straighter than usual, and her voice has acquired the quiet loudness of a storyteller. “A husband,” she adds, as though the words are wrenched out of her.
His palm itches to write, to glide over the blank surface of his notepad, but he holds himself still. September 2011, he repeats to himself like a charm. It was two years later that they were to find the ghost houses of the many missing. They found the shack later still. In these remote parts, weird happenings are commonplace—or so say the police records. It was the Pumpkin missings of 2013 that made the woods shoot to prominence. After two months of intense media coverage of the ghost community in the woods, the world moved on—and he was left with the case.
After a week of futile searching in the wildly beautiful thickets, he was convinced they had found answers when they happened upon the standalone shack, the only sign of life for miles. If the empty, furnished houses didn’t count, that is.
“Mrs. Karupa, I must insist you tell us what you know.”
Again the stare. Around him, he feels the unnerving silence of the place pressing down. Her ancient clock ticks only every minute, and apart from the occasional rustle of the trees, there is nothing at all to be heard. He imagines nothing moving for miles around. He stifles a shiver.
“Inspector, sometimes, I think we are too much here to look. We vainly believe in too much at the foot of the table. When the fly-squasher comes down heavily, will we still talk of meaning, of sense?”
He almost loses it. “You are the only lead we have. People are sometimes convicted on much less circumstantial evidence. I will ask once more, ma’am. What do you remember?”
She shakes her head like she is disappointed with him. ”That’s too low, too low. To see things you need to float, you see.”
By the time he stomps out of her house, it’s late evening. The leaves shiver voluptuously where his car headlights shine over them. There are no street lights, not even on the road through the woods, a mere hundred metres from her clearing. He passes his hand over his eyes, tired. Never when he joined the Dhingul Woods Crime Division did he think he would have to deal with such a case as Pumpkin. It is the ultimate media fantasy: a deserted colony, complete with signs of abruptly abandoned daily activities. It was when looking for a jackal poacher did they stumble across the empty structures deep in the woods. While he did find the legitimate records private, there is no denying that there is no way anyone could have known about this small population without great effort. Here they had been, and here they would have well died if they hadn’t disappeared. Analysis showed the place could have been occupied for well over sixty years, complete as it was with its own off-the-radar hospital and vegetable produce.
The trees gleam past, always a few more of them. He imagines them closing in on the car, one tree at a time, until the way out is a hole too small for him to get out of so that he is enveloped in mossy trees, creeper trees, chrome green—he forces himself to stop. He looks instinctively into the mirror to convince himself of the empty expanse of the road behind him. Dark except for his taillights. But a sudden bright pink flashes across the mirror. An abominable, almost obscene pink which has no business in these untouched woods. His heart jumps and the vehicle swerves wildly, before his training takes over. He breathes in deeply and steadies the wheel. Quelling a twinge of apprehension, he stops the car. Again, the menacing, taunting silence.
His door clicks open loudly as he gets out, a laborious rustle of clothing, his seat creaking. No one. Yawning, he turns back to the car and jumps back a step. Hanging from the door, fluttering in a still wind, is Mrs. Karupa’s only other sari with neat squares of red printed on it. Except now, the squares are dripping as though freshly dyed. He pulls it down, heart pounding. There might be hope yet. The place is infamous for strange things. Why can’t this be a clue? The clue. Maybe it’s her. She’s cracked. After four years of silence, for the first time, something has changed in this place. There must be a lead to the missing people—and hopefully they’re still alive.
Slamming the door shut, he backs the car and drives back, hard. At the first Juniper, he turns hard and gets off the road, his excitement building. The small clearing of the shack holds nothing. There are no traces on the ground. He grabs his torch and gets out. The trees are still the same; he’s known the place well. Except: the shack and the vegetable patch have vanished. He feels for his phone and broadcast set, hoping for comfort from their familiar outlines. With a twinge of annoyance, he remembers clipping both off his belt after getting into the car. He’d usually do that on the drive home. He turns around, scattering gravel. No car.
His heart thumps faster and something seems to stretch in his dry throat. He fingers his service pistol. There must be a mistake. Wrong place, it’s probably the wrong clearing. He needs to find Karupa and then try phone support. Or sleep in tonight and look for the car in the morning. As for where the car could be, he is already too unnerved to think straight.
He starts towards the road on foot, the gravel screaming. And absurdly, from the road, he sees the shack lit bright and silent. Even with everything, he can’t help feeling a rush of relief. He needs to connect to dispatch—when backup is here, he can solve all this. He walks up to the shack. Silence inside and silence outside. After hesitating for a second, he tries the knob. The creak is loud, and good bright light spills out. He steps inside, a word of apology already on his lips, with the escapade of the shack almost forgotten for the moment.
The room is empty. The voice from the next room startles him. It’s Mrs. Karupa’s, but wild and joyous.
“Oh, you have come. Sit, we will be with you. The head!”
He collapses into the nearest chair, his hair rising.
“I need to make a call, may I borrow your phone please,” he says.
“Oh, do you now? How delicious.” A long cackle.
He puts his hand to his belt and gently releases the safety of his gun. “Mrs. Karupa, I need you to step out. Please keep your hands raised and empty.”
A shadow appeared quickly at the only doorway inside the shack. “Hands raised. Oh, but I’ll need hands, how else—”. Another cackle.
He stands up, gun raised, waiting for her. The shadow grows and a bright pink flamingo enters; it settles down and starts grooming itself.
“Mrs. Karupa”, he called again.
At the sound of his voice, the bird gives an outraged cackle and launches itself at him, a furious pink blur. Acting on plain reflexes, he swings the gun up and finds himself pinned in the chair with the gun jammed against the bird’s throat.
He curls his fingers on the trigger, terrified, uncaring—when the bird shrieks into his face. The eyes. The eyes are dark, runny and yet piercing. He pulls back the gun in shock, and passes out even as the bird reaches for his throat.
Lazy light. Light that floats. Light floats flies. Light melts bites. You let it take along, believe in it. Hush. Nothing else is real. Sometimes rain is.
The morning comes as it always does in the woods. Slow and dark, reaching through the foliage. It chooses to shine pink on them. They hop out of the house, some drunk, some alert.
Sometimes when it rains, we eat the trees too. Put your beak out, the real fire. Dip it into the nonreal trees, the nonreal road and it’s gone, don’t you see? Nothing else is real.
But you are. The nonreal shack. The nonreal glass and grass, the neatness is real. Dip, snarl and break and it’s gone.
“Yes,” the one with spectacles says. “Yes, it isn’t real.”
Isn’t it delicious, this nonreal? When nothing is real, everything is fun. This is Disneyland.
“What is Disneyland?”, one sings.
Nonreal nonreal, they chant back. The stones splinter and the trees melt. One of them drags out a bathtub from the shack and tosses it at the road, which cracks. They cry wildly as they set upon the nonreal concrete of the road. It cowers before their plunging beaks, their clawing stork legs.
Trees are not real. But pretty is real. Pretty gardens are real too. Eat eat. Eat till life is real. Claw, snatch, poke. Real is a floating Pacman. But candy isn’t real and the Bogeymen aren’t either. Oh the flowers, the sun is real.
Because pink is real, the one with the dark runny eyes snaps.
Up far above the trees, the colours are gone and the sun is hot. The world has nonreal buildings, nonreal dogs and schools. And there, no one hears and no one sees the pink flashes.
“We will fix that”, says the one with a gun strapped to its leg.
Prompt: The year is 1910. Adolf Hitler, a struggling artist, is having a hard time fighting off the assassination attempts of time travellers.
By Venkatraman Ganesh – Ganga
The streets were bustling with activity by the time I walked out of the asylum, thankful for the night’s sleep and a hot water bath. After months of sleeping on uncomfortable park benches and standing in long queues at the warming-up rooms and shelters, it felt good to have a decent lodging, even if it was only for a month or so. Walking towards the Ringstrasse, I allowed myself to indulge in a newspaper and breakfast for the first time in a long while. The asylum provided free evening soup and bread, and this meant that I could afford to use and save some of the money that I would have otherwise spent on dinner. Not having to worry about the evening meal was a blessed feeling, and I was already calculating how much more I needed to save to buy new water colours and canvas. Aunt Johanna had been kind enough to give me 40 kronen as a Christmas gift, and at this rate, it would take only a week more for me to be able to buy the necessary equipments. It was a rather sad state of affairs, but today, I didn’t feel bogged down. Gaining entry into the asylum had put me in a good mood, and I intended to make the most of it. With the newspaper tucked under my arms, I walked towards the Hofburg Palace and settled myself for a nice long read in the manicured lawns adjoining the palace road. Stories were devoured one after the other, and it really displeased me to read that the joker Karl Leuger was as popular as ever. Instead of doing his job as the Mayor, the fellow wasted time disparaging Jews! The last I time I stood in a soup line, it was still the Mayor’s responsibility to provide for warming rooms for the homeless in winter – not the Jews’. Disgusted, I folded the paper up and started walking towards the business street, intent on burning up my feelings by shovelling snow for 20 hellers a day. The good mood was gone, and so deeply engrossed in my thoughts was I, that I nearly got hit by a buggy. It was a close shave: a step forward and the wheel would have run over me. I swore like a sailor at the buggy, but it did not stop. In the end, I continued my journey, feeling confused and empty.
A fortnight later, I returned to the lawns adjoining the Hofburg Palace, this time, with my colours and canvas. It had taken longer than I had expected to save the money, but I had also found someone who was willing to act as an agent for my paintings. A man named Hanisch had agreed to sell the paintings for a cut, leaving me with just the task of painting to my heart’s content, a proposal I deemed favourable. Painting was something I had always enjoyed and it had nearly broken me when I was rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts, not once, but twice. The director told me that my drawings showed “unfitness for painting”, but painting was something I did not find the heart to leave. Fresh in Vienna, I was enamoured by the idea of “l’art pour l’art”, but it didn’t take long for reality to hit me. Art for art’s sake was something I realised I did not have the luxury for – on the streets, hungry and without a roof over my head, I realised that the life of a painter was a tough one, and with supplies exhausted, took up odd jobs to make ends meet. That was a year ago, and it made today all the more better. Sitting in the green lawns, working with my brush and palette, capturing the magnificence of the Hofburg Palace – it felt good. The steady thrum of the city faded into the background as I continued to work, and it was a little past noon when I was broken out of my reverie by a shadow that fell across my canvas. Turning to find the source of the shadow, I squinted as the midday sun hit me, surprised to find a well dressed gentleman looking with interest at my canvas.
“Well Monsieur, that is a rather good picture that you have got there. May I come closer and have a look?”
I stepped back without a word and allowed the gentleman to approach and examine the canvas. I took the time to have a closer look at the person who I hoped was a prospective client. The gentleman was dressed well and was of an average height, with what I thought was a ‘forgettable’ face. There was absolutely nothing in terms of looks that distinguished him from the masses of Vienna – but then, he did call me Monsieur. A French citizen then? While I was inspecting my prospective client, the gentleman had been keenly examining my half finished painting, taking his eyes off the canvas every now and then to compare what I had painted with the real palace. This continued for a minute, before he turned, looking satisfied with what he had seen.
“Well Monsieur, this is not the best painting that I have come across in my life, but you seem to have some skills I must admit. For how much would you be willing to sell this once you have completed it? 50 kronen? I am new here – I do not know the prevailing rates. Would that do?”
50 kronen! That was extraordinary! I could barely contain my excitement at this sudden turn of events and tried hard to school my features.
“50 kronen is good Monsieur. If you would but return in the evening, I will have it ready for you?”
“Yes yes. That would be alright. In fact, I do not mind waiting. I have plenty of time with me, and I would like to see the painting come to life – if you do not mind that is.”
“That wouldn’t be a problem sire. Kindly have a seat!”
We made small talk as I painted – about the weather, trade etc. The man seemed to be well read, and had apparently moved to Vienna from Paris recently. He seemed well off and seemed to know a thing or two about paintings, and it felt good to be able to discuss art with someone after a long time. We soon fell into a comfortable silence. I was nearly done with the painting and was making the finishing touches when the gentleman broke the silence. “It is strange, isn’t it Monsieur, that this country has a powerful emperor, but also a parliament? We had done away with our emperor half a century ago, and the English have reduced their King to a figurehead for all practical purposes, yet here, there seems to be some strange balance of power. This very building that you are painting is a symbol of that uneasiness, don’t you think? That the Reichsrat meets in the Hofburg Palace?”
I was taken aback by the sudden question. When I had first arrived in Vienna, I didn’t have much sympathy for the Habsburg dynasty, believing that the cherished ideals of political freedom were incompatible with a monarchy. However, I had started doubting this conviction of mine after I visited the Reichsrat a few times. It was a disturbing sight – the learned men who had been chosen to represent their constituencies seemed more interested in themselves than the people. Whenever uncomfortable questions were raised, a blame game ensued, with nothing being done to fix responsibility and solve the issue. Strong leadership had been sacrificed at the altar of democracy.
“It is true that there is some uneasiness between the Reichsrat and the Emperor, sire. I would say, however, that this tension is good. A strong Emperor will provide much needed leadership and accountability, while a strong Reichsrat can act as a medium to ensure that the grievances of the masses and their popular ideas will reach the Emperor. What do you think?”
The gentleman did not reply. I continued adding the finishing touches, and before long, was done with the painting. Wordlessly, the foreigner took out 50 kronen from his pocket and extended his hand for a handshake. It was painful handshake, and I was glad to let go of his hands. Something seemed to be troubling him though, and as we left the lawns, he stopped.
“Why don’t we meet in two weeks time, Monsieur? I will have something that will interest you”
“Sure sire. Two weeks from today, at 9 in the morning?”
He nodded, and we went our ways.
Two weeks later, I struggled to make it to the Hofburg Palace. Ever since that day at the lawns, a sudden fever had taken possession of me, leaving me rather weak. The fever did not subside despite medicines and slowly ate away at my strength, and if not for the thought of another 50 kronen, I would have stayed in bed. I prayed the gentleman kept the appointment, and to my relief, the gentleman was waiting there. He seemed surprised to see me, and as I approached him, seemed disappointed too, though he hid it immediately.
“Seems like you are not doing too well, Monsieur. What ails you?”
“Just a fever – I am getting better sire. You said you wanted one more painting?”
“Yes Monsieur. I thought I would narrate a vision that I have been having in my dreams to you and have you paint that dream. The dream is vivid and troubles me every other day, and a gentleman named Freud thought that having a physical representation of that dream painted would help me get past it. Would you paint it? I am willing to pay you well for this service.”
I nodded my consent.
“Let me begin then. The dream begins with me walking in a battlefield, where two largies armies are fighting each other. There is destruction all around, but what is truly disturbing about the dream is that at the centre of the battle field, there is a pile of dead bodies. Atop this pile, a man sits, laughing, taking immense pleasure at the destruction and the death being wrecked all around him. In the dream, I approach this man and the pile of bodies that he is sitting on, and as I near, the bodies suddenly start to speak – “Go back and prevent this, Jean. Go back. Avenge us!” It is a terrible experience I tell you – I wake up distraught, and I cannot get the cries of the dead out of my head. Freud tells me that the only way I can sleep in peace is by doing what the dead want me to do – he thinks the dream is a metaphor for something. This is why he wants a physical manifestation of the dream to be made – so that he can figure out what exactly ails me. Can you paint this for me?”
By the end of the narration, the man had lost quite a bit of his composure. His eyes were wide open and he was breathing hard. It took him a few moments to regain his composure, following which he looked at me in the eye.
“So, will you paint this as I described it to you?”
“I shall sire, especially if it will help you. It is just that I am feeling weak, and it will take me more than a day to finish this. Would that be fine?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. Title it “Jean’s Dream shall come true”, will you? Shall we meet next week?”
“Sure sire! I take it that your name is Jean?”
“Ah yes! We have not introduced ourselves! I am Dubois. Jean Dubois.”
“My name is Hitler, sire. Adolf Hitler. It has been a pleasure meeting you.”
By Arvind Pujari – Tapti
“Fizz, you’re really gonna like my jizz”, shouted a boy, as she walked across the football pitch. A few of his friends, laughed animatedly at his rather repugnant statement, with a few of them making expletive gestures. Her only reaction was to draw her brown leather jacket closer towards her, otherwise she carried on, seemingly unaffected by her surroundings. Fizz struck a striking figure as she walked across the grass of the pitch. She was quite tall, and slim, and had an extremely sexy body. She was dressed in a short black top, a brown leather jacket and a green mini-skirt, complemented with knee high leather boots. Perhaps the best way to describe her was “really hot”. And that was discounting her hair, which in itself, was a sight to behold. It was almost like a golden crown, with shoulder length strands of delectable curls intertwined in each other. The best word in the dictionary to describe it was frizzy, and that’s how Felicity came to be known as Fizz. She pushed open the door of the bathroom, but instead, the door travelled in the opposite direction of intended motion as someone attempted to exit the bathroom. That someone turned out to be Fizz’s classmate, Ariana. “Hey!!”, Ariana exclaimed, in a high pitched tone “Hi, what’s up?”, replied Fizz, rather more sedately. “I’m good! So is it true?”, exclaimed Ariana, again in a rather high pitched tone. “Is what true?”, scowled Fizz in reply. “I heard you spent the night in Seb’s place last night, and things got dirty.” “Maybe”, replied Fizz, indifferently. “He’s pretty hot huh, Seb. Probably hotter than Ravi.” “If you say so”, replied Fizz with continued indifference. “I guess you’d know better, since you’ve dated and bedded them both in the matter of a month.” “Lucky me”, said Fizz, her voice dripping with sarcasm, as she walked past Ariana, into the gloomy abyss that was the girl’s washroom.
She could hear the whispers around her, as she walked into Math. “All night apparently” “She broke up with him just a couple of weeks ago” “Her third guy in a month”
Fizz chose to ignore the muttering around her, as she took her seat on the second bench of the last column. The stares and murmurs continued, and only grew louder, as Javi, a tall beefy guy, who was also the drummer of the school band, sat next to her. “Hey Fizz, you free this afternoon”, he said, with a slightly evil grin on his face “No, not really. Why?”, she replied coldly. “I thought we could…you know bang a bit….with the drums, on the drums”, he said, grinning even more. “Fuck off”. At that moment, Harry Miles, the Math teacher walked in, and the class fell silent. “Okay, so first of all, I’ve got last week’s Math Exam papers, and I’ve got to say that most of you have done abysmally. If you guys are not going to take Calculus seriously, its then get used to this”. “On the brighter side though, one student has performed exceptionally well. Miss Felicity here has scored an amazing 95 out of 100. Well done Felicity”, said Mr. Miles, looking at her kindly. There was a moments silence before the class broke out in amazement “She definitely sucked his cock after the exam” “Probably before” “Damn, Hari got some good” Fizz listened to all of this, without her demeanor ever changing the slightest. No one knew that she had been second in her class in her previous school. No one knew that she studied for a few hours every day before going to the parties. No one knew that below the golden tangle of her hair lay an extremely intelligent brain. And she couldn’t care less. ______________________________________________________________________
He looked at her in the eye, and then without warning, he clasped her hand, and drew her closer to him. She gasped, taken aback, and then giggled That was all the encouragement he needed. He drew her closer and wrapped his hands around her. Simultaneously, she put her hands around him. He kissed her cheek, and coated it with a thick wad of saliva. She tasted salty, but there was also a wonderfully sweet flavor mixed with it. Sweet and salty she was. He kissed her again, and again, on the forehead, on the other cheek, and even on her nose. Her grip around him tightened. Her shirt was now untucked, and after a flurry of movement, he found her hand inside her shirt. His hand roamed around as he kissed, and even licked her. He felt the smoothness of her back, the goosebumps of her tummy, His hand wandered upwards, where its advent was halted by a thick piece of cloth. He attempted to negotiate the impediment by curving his hand outwards, along the curve, where he felt something wonderfully soft and warm. With a lurch, he realized that he had gone perhaps a little too far, and brought his hand down, where his hand continued
to accost the bare skin of her tummy. She seemed not to realize what had just happened, and her hands entered the encompasses of his bare torso, feeling his stomach, his back, his chest. Her hands moved around, as swift as a hawk, as if eager to cover every inch of his body. Still he continued to kiss her, taking in her taste. She shut her eyes, and let her hair back. Perspiration streaked down her face. With his other hand, he ventured under her skirt, feeling her thighs, and their soft, creamy flesh. They were perfected. He slowly made his way upwards, feeling every inch of their creaminess, absorbing every ounce of their hotness, until his advent was stopped by another piece of cloth, beyond which lay unexplored territory, as beautiful and treacherous as the Amazon rainforest. His hand move out of the folds of her skirt, and stroked the delicious curve that was her butt. It was almost in the realm of perfection, a smooth, flowing curve, soft, yet supple, plentiful yet taut. She sighed. She was breathing heavily now, almost trembling. He extracted his hands out of their positions, and put them on her cheek. Slowly, he bent forward, waiting for his lips to meet her succulent lips. He made contact, for a fleeting second, before she pulled away. “What happened?”, exclaimed Jake “I’m sorry, I can’t do this”, said Fizz, sweating profusely, whilst simultaneously buttoning up her shirt. “Why?” “I don’t know”, she said as she slammed the door behind her. ______________________________________________________________________
“Hey Fizz”, called out someone, as she ran out of her the building that housed her home. Fizz looked around to find Javi, and five of his friends leering at her. “What are you doing here?” “We saw you and Jakey boy heading out after school, so we decided to follow you.”, replied Javi. “Gave it to him good huh, like you gave it to every single teacher in school” “Fuck off Javi”, replied Fizz “Oh you think you’re smart and pretty, well guess what, you’re not Fizz. You’re stupid, and a slut. A sluuut”, shouted Javi, clearly enjoying himself. “Is that why you live alone, is that why your Mom left?”. “When she realized that her daughter was a fucking prostitute?” “I could really do with your services now”. Fizz felt the anger grow inside her, ready to come out like hot lava, and then something inside her just broke. Turning away, she ran.
The rain pelted down heavily on her as she walked along the pavement. Her white shirt was now soaking wet, which resulted in some strangle glance from onlookers, and her eyeliner was now smudged across her face, by a combination of sweat and rain. She was so lonely, and so tired of being lonely. It had been three months since she changed schools, and she had no true friends. This was in stark contrast to her previous school, where she had grown up with her classmates from kindergarten. And worst off all, she lived alone. She had tried to act indifferent to the jeers and taunts, but it had just become too much. So what if she dated a lot of guys or even slept with a lot of them? That was her choice, her freedom, and what she liked. It wasn’t her fault that she was both exceptionally smart and irresistibly pretty. Somehow though, it was changing her life in a way she couldn’t control. Her hair fluttered in front of her eyes, the symbol of her beauty, dancing away in the moonlight, and then, she knew what she had to do. ______________________________________________________________________
“Hey Mom”, said Fizz Francesca turned around and looked at her daughter, and smiled. “You look so pretty”, she said. “Thanks Mom, how are you.” “I’ve got six tubes sticking out of my hand, so I daresay not very good”, she said with a sad smile. “Chemo will end soon, and then you’ll feel much better”, said Fizz Francesca just smiled. “I need to tell you something Mom:, said Fizz “Go on”, implored Francesca “I’m planning to donate my hair.” Francesca frowned for a moment, and said, “I’m not going to comment on whether its right or wrong, because that’s your decision to make. All I’m going to say is that I’m proud of you my girl. You are the most beautiful child I’ve ever seen, but its not the beauty on the outside, it’s the shining light that’s inside”. Fizz cried for a long, long time that night. ______________________________________________________________________
ONE YEAR LATER Fizz walked across the turf of the football pitch, laughing as she talked to the three girls who walked besides her. She seemed to shine, with a bright radiant light,that was only matched by the Sun above. Her hair shone like a hundred thousand diamonds in the passing breeze.
Prompt: Begin with: “Did you all just feel that?”
By Srikant Musti – Saras
“Did you all just feel that? Mother of fucking God! Remind me what we signed up for again?” Jack Spiel screamed.
There had been a loud bang, louder than normal anyway, adding to the already high levels of terror that everyone was experiencing. The entire trench shook, indicating that one of the tank shells had either hit or exploded very near their particular bunker. The second shock, followed by the spray of shrapnel which caused its own distinct sound, similar to hailstones hitting concrete suggested the latter.
Jack and Rick had managed to duck in time to avoid the rain of shrapnel from the exploding tank shell. The knowledge that they would have died if the shell had actually hit their bunker, or if they’d ducked a fraction of a second late did not register just yet. The human body has a way of pushing such thoughts to the back of the mind in such times.
“Fuck! Waters is down!” screamed Jack. Jeff Waters, one of the members of their squad had been hit by shrapnel; most of his torso was covered in blood. Miraculously, the spray had missed all the major arteries and internal organs. This also meant that he was fully conscious, and the pain, judging by the screams, was extreme.
“LT, we need a medic here stat! Waters is down. Multiple punctures to his suit from the shrapnel. I see fading vitals. His Oxygen processor is punctured but the suit’s emergency tank has gone active. I’m sealing the punctures right now.” Rick said as he switched off the transmitter on Jeff’s suit. It was harsh, but nobody needed to hear his screams. He then began applying the sealant specifically designed to maintain the integrity of the M-Protec bio-suit. The hiss of Waters’ suit being repressurized would never be heard by anyone. Sound did not travel in the thin atmosphere of Mars. The color slowly started returning to his face, which brought in a fresh wave of pain.
Jack found it distinctly disquieting to watch Jeff’s face contort with pain without being able to hear the usual sound of screaming that accompanied. Having watched and participated in the torture of more than one rival-gang member in his day, the fact that they were not in the protective enclosure of Eden’s plexiglass walls which maintained the air pressure at exactly 14.7 pounds per square inch was driven home for perhaps the thousandth time in his head. Jack Spiel was a member of the Raquel St. Capitalists gang, and for most of his 18 year old life, he had been involved in the manufacture, sale and distribution of dust, a cheap, illegal narcotic that was synthesized from stolen agricultural chemicals. Dust was the intoxicant most favored by the lower classes when they ran out of or grew bored with their monthly allotment of marijuana and alcohol. Between the sellers, the manufacturers, and the users, all of whom were concentrated in high numbers in the welfare housing buildings of downtown, Eden, the district was a busy, dangerous place to live. Jack had probably seen more violence than the average person on Earth saw in an entire lifetime. He didn’t hold a grudge though, in contrast to the kind of attitude most of his peers held. Jeff Waters for instance, had belonged to the rival Highland Creek Thrusters, and three weeks ago, before the war had begun, each would have been obligated to shoot the other on sight. The gangs of downtown Eden were fiercely competitive and territorial. Jack didn’t stop and ponder how much things had changed from the moment the Earthlings had landed their ships three hundred kilometers from Eden’s defensive artillery range.
Rick Mortimer was the Sergeant of their squad, which was down now to three. He was becoming very nervous; their position wasn’t ready to deal with this kind of shelling. The Martian special-forces had been constantly whittling away at the Earthlings’ command structure for weeks, any soldier on the march who would speak on a command frequency was basically placing a target on his head for some sniper who was hidden away in the hills. This resulted in there being very poor coordination among the Earthling forces and they were all targeting the center of the Martian defense line. Rick’s squad, who were hunkered down in a position situated right smack at the middle of Jutfield Gap, the narrow valley which held access to the shortest road to Eden were being pounded heavily. So far, reports were that the lines at all theatres – Eden, New Pittsburg, and Proctor were all holding. At New Pittsburg, they were barely doing so, but at Proctor which was situated in the densest of the mountains, the Earthlings had already suffered over an estimated 60% losses as opposed to the Martian 3%. Rick didn’t hold the optimistic view. His position was getting pounded and all his instincts screamed at him to run like hell away from the advancing tanks. Rick was the oldest of the three, and the most senior member of the Martian Planetary Guard. His status as an employed individual, (working for Agricorp – the largest food producing company in the Solar System as an engineer) saw to that. In an economy where over 40% of the population was unemployed, there was major resentment between the employed and those belonging to the welfare class. Popular opinion was that the unemployed, also referred to derogatively as Vermin were a drain on every single person who held employment. High taxes were collected on Mars, a significant portion of which was used for clothing, food and other essentials for the welfare recipients. The Vermin lived their lives in squalor, unable to find any work and invariably became gang- members and dust-runners. He couldn’t believe that the subordinate whom he was desperately trying to save belonged to the very same gang, members of which had raped and murdered his pregnant wife twelve years ago; something which had plagued him from the moment he had met Jeff Waters. Rick had been most vocal amongst the group of people who opposed Governor Whiting’s legislation allowing the Vermin into the MPG. For over a decade, the Earthling government had allowed for only the employed to be members of the MPG, thereby helping further the divide the difference between the two groups.
“Don’t you die on me now, Waters. No more people dying on my watch.”
Jeff Waters patted Rick’s arm. He was feeling levels of pain that he had not been capable of imagining but was too much of a macho man to admit it. He forced his upper lip into what he hoped was a smile but what turned out to look more like a grimace. He tried moving his right hand towards the radio transmitter chip and was rewarded with another bout of pain. There were several pieces of shrapnel which had torn into his right triceps. Rick noticed and turned the transmitter on. Just as he did so, the Lieutenant responded.
“Copy Mortimer, we’re about to evac from the position in ETA 6 minutes. Medivac hovers have already left, and you’ll be egressing from your position in 4 minutes.”
“The fuck does that mean?” asked Jack.
“It means that there are no medics around and we’re going to have to carry Waters out back in 4 minutes” Replied Jack.
“Not if those tanks reach us first.” Jeff croaked. “You won’t make it out of here in time, carrying me out. Those Earthling motherfuckers are already dismounting their APCs. They’ll make it here in no time. You guys have got to get the fuck out of here, and right fucking now, at that.”
“I ain’t leaving no man behind, Sarge” Jack said. “We already lost Sanders and Hicks. I’m not going to let another one of my team mates die!”
“If we’re dyin’, we’ll all fuckin’ die. Ain’t no fuckin’ Capitalist’s ever fuckin’ left a team-mate behind, even if he’s a fucking Thruster fag.”
Just as he said those words, another tank shell exploded on top of their bunker, forcing everyone to duck away from their firing ports. It also made both Zen and Jack reconsider their statements.
“Thanks for the eloquent spiel, Spiel. Now get back to your firing port and shoot some fucking Earthlings.” The poor attempt at a pun elicited a dutiful chuckle from them men. Rick was torn. On one hand, he was unsure of what he needed to do. The lieutenant had just told them that if their comrade was grievously wounded, they were to carry him if they could or let him die. Field decisions were hard, and he knew that Lieutenant Callahan, who was a good leader and a compassionate man, would lose sleep over this. He remembered what Colonel Bright had said at the beginning of the war, though
“Gentlemen, you’re all Martians. You have all grown up on this planet under the rule of WestHem and you know what their system has done to us. We are second class citizens on our own planet. I won’t try to duplicate the speeches of Governor Whiting here today because I’m just not up to the task. But I know that all of you have been listening to her words and that most of you agree with what she has been saying. It is time for us to break free of WestHem by whatever means necessary. I want none of you to make any mistake about the gravity of the situation that I have just described to you. Our troops have fired upon federal officers, killing several of them. We have defied federal orders to hand over Governor Whiting to them. What has happened today is nothing more nor less than the opening move in an armed revolt by the Planet Mars against the Western Hemispheric Alliance of Earth. It is a bid for independence from WestHem by force of arms. A revolution. And I’m about to ask you men here to play a part in it.”
“If any or even all of you does not wish to do this you are free to stand and leave the room right now. I have orders direct from Governor Whiting herself that I am not to compel a single soldier to do my bidding. This is a voluntary assignment from this point on and that means more than one thing. If you commit to my plan, you will be doing so of your own free will and you will not have the excuse that you were simply following orders. If we lose, you will most likely die. If we win, you will be heroes for the rest of Martian history.”
Rick set his jaw. He knew what was to be done. It was not the Martian way to order men to throw themselves into the face of death in battle. He made a decision for himself. Jeff Waters had been a gang member, drug runner and vermin. That, however, was the past. Now, he was a member of the 17th ACR of the Martian planetary guard and a member of his squad. He opened his radio and said to his men
“Guys, I’m making a field decision to hold in place until medevac arrives to get Waters out to safety. Each of you is free to make the decision to leave, at any point, MPG doctrine still stands. You may do so. I will, however, hold position with Waters and kill me some Earthlings.”
“Fuckin’ aye, Sarge!” screamed what remained of his squad. Tears filled Jeff’s eyes to the brim as he realized that his squad would rather die along with him in defense of a free Mars than leave him alone.
Unbeknownst to the men, squads all over Jutfeild gap were making the same decision to hold in position until medevac had enough time to return for their wounded comrades. Free Mars, a dream built by Laura Whiting, would become a reality because of their actions.
Prompt: Begin with: “Did you all just feel that?”
By Yogesh Kumaran – Alak
The Other Side
“Did you all just feel that?” I asked. Then I realised I had asked that in my mind. I cleared my throat and asked again, this time clearly.
“Did you all just feel that?” This time a few people turned around.
“Feel what?” somebody asked. I couldn’t explain it. It felt like a wave of energy. Although it wasn’t a very strong one I couldn’t believe that nobody else had noticed.
I’m Yogesh. I’m a lean, brown, lanky, average-looking guy in my 9th standard. And I was bored with life. I was doing well academically and wasn’t bad at co-curricular activities. But I tried to be the perfect guy I wasn’t. Without realising it, I was building a false personality for myself, carefully gauging others reactions and then deciding my actions. I ended up having a well-oiled mechanism for social behaviour, without understanding why I was doing what I was doing. So, everybody thought I was this perfect, nice and soft-spoken nerd. But not a lot of people knew that, inside I was not much different from the rest.
Unsurprisingly, guys who want to be perfect end up having very few friends. So, I was sitting alone in one corner of the class, and that’s why I could feel that energy wave (Gosh! Glad I was alone then!). I looked around. The “elite” and “attractive” girls were in the front near the teacher’s table, dancing, singing, decorating the black board and trying hard to catch everybody’s attention. Sufaila and Deepika were the leaders of that gang. And yes, once I had a crush on both of them (Well, one after the other). I was about to get back to my work, which is essentially brooding, but then something happened.
We could hear loud and shrill screams from the other class.
Everybody looked stunned. Nobody moved. I rushed towards the door, my heart pounding. But there was something unusual happening. My classmates were not moving, yes, but not out of shock. Everybody appeared to be frozen. A couple of them had even fainted. I don’t scare so easy. But there was something worse. The noise coming from the other class had stopped. This felt like a trap. Like somebody had known I would be the first one to rush out and was observing me, waiting undecided. But undecided about what? Killing me? But then I realised death didn’t scare me, well at least at that point. What freaked me out was that, some part of me wanted this to happen. And this person whoever it was, knew this too. I stumbled out of the class. It began to rain and the sky was darkening. I could find nobody out in the corridor. The other class’s door was shut. I didn’t want to go back to my class. I was shocked to think of anything else other than opening that door. I banged on the door. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t open. I had a feeling that unless I broke that door open, I wouldn’t be able to get in. But how could I break it? Moreover, why did I want to get in? I just felt like I should. I ran towards the door and rammed my shoulder against it. It shook but didn’t open. My shoulders
felt like they were cracked. I kicked the door. Kicked again. Kicked the third time. Every time it shook hard but didn’t open. I jumped and kicked with both my legs, pushing hard against the door, painfully landing straight on my back. The door gave way. I went in to find everybody frozen here too. But no. Two of them had fainted here too. The guy seemed to be struggling. A low growl could be continuously heard. I walked up to him. The moment I touched him, he seemed to loosen. And he looked at me. His face was red. I recognised him.
“What happened?” he asked weakly.
But then I caught sight of the girl who had fainted too. It was Jisha. Suddenly, something broke within me. I could feel a wave of anger and sorrow. My head was reeling. I didn’t understand anything. Images began to flash in my mind. I was flying. No, I was flying on something. Fire was raging beneath. I could see somethings flying around me. People below were roaring and howling. There was smoke everywhere, but through that smoke I could see somebody. Jisha was looking straight at me.
“YOGESH!” Rohit was shaking me. He looked alert and strong now. But his eyes showed fear. I looked out. It had become darker and I could sense a storm coming. I walked upto Jisha and hugged her. Don’t ask me why I did that. It just felt right. She shook as if she had just come back alive. I slowly released her and looked at her, unsure how she’d react. She looked confused, but didn’t look displeased nor did she pull away immediately. A look of worry crossed her face as she saw the dark clouds. She nearly put her arms around me, but then noticed Rohit and pulled away. I glanced at Rohit. He stared unbelievingly at me, and a smug smile was setting in his face, momentarily forgetting the situation we were in. I gave my premium “stay out of this” look and took Jisha by her hand. The three of us walked out warily. I nearly jumped out of my skin as I saw someone standing right next to me.
“What’s happening?” she asked. It was Sufaila.
“Gosh! You scared the bejesus out of me!” I shouted. I was puzzled by the fact that although scared, she looked quite undisturbed by all of this. I realised that all the four of us were not downright frightened by these events. Maybe, they too had expected something like this? We ran to the stairs, not wanting to look at any more gleaming frozen bodies. But all of a sudden Jisha shrieked. She was pointing down towards the road leading from the school gate to the classrooms block. There was somebody standing right in the middle of the road. More appropriately, it was something, standing wrapped up in a black cloth. The scary part? It was looking up right at us. We didn’t know how fast that thing could move, but I didn’t want to find out. I led them downstairs and ran through the next classrooms block and onto the football ground. We found two more of those “things” standing there, but this time up close. They seemed to be made of some metal which shined like gold, but they had eyes that looked human. But there seemed to be no end to the surprises. A few feet away from us, there seemed to be a large gaping hole. A circular halo, inside of which we could see some light. It was pitch dark around us now and we could barely see the metal sentinels. I felt that it was either that gaping hole or the sentinels. I pulled Jisha and ran towards the hole, Rohit and Sufaila following close behind. I was afraid that I was leading the others without being sure if I was right. But all my doubts vanished as the sentinels moved, as fast as lightning their metal hands outstretched trying to grab us. I didn’t believe we’d make it. But then the hole just
pulled us in all of a sudden. Some force like gravity absorbed us in. Even as we flew through it, the hole twisted and closed.
I fell face first. But it was soft. There was a familiar smell. A terrible thought crossed my mind. But no, this can’t be a dream. I was literally sweating and panting.
I was back in my bedroom. I turned around slowly, half-expecting the others to be lying on my bed too. But no. I was alone. I couldn’t believe it.
I have never had such an experience before. Of course, I’ve had dreams that, I missed sorely once I woke up. But this time something was different. My legs ached, as if I had really kicked open that door. My face still looked red, as if I had just hugged Jisha. Most importantly, I felt alert and the fear, that arose after looking at those metal sentinels, had not ebbed off. I was not feeling groggy at all. I could hear my mom calling out to me now. It was quite late in the morning. But I was feeling empty and extremely depressed. I couldn’t move myself. I seriously considered jumping down the balcony. What if I fall back into that portal? What if the others were still waiting for me on the other side? The thought of Jisha waiting for me almost made me get up and jump out. But I was still shocked by the thought that this had all been a dream and not real.
My intelligence kicked in a bit later, driving out my emotions. I got ready and left for school. I was late and the students had already assembled for the morning prayer. I could see Sufaila in the front. I joined my class, standing at last in the line. Somebody else came and stood beside me. It was Jisha. My heart skipped a beat.
Now to make things clear, I should tell here that I have never spoken to her. I couldn’t understand why I was crazy about her. She was slightly taller than me and more muscular too. She was fair and beautiful. But her eyes were the ones that made my heartbeat go haywire. It had this look of innocent yearning. They always evoked a sense of melancholy. And now she was standing next to me, having come late too. I was glad her eyes were closed.
The prayer got over. As the other classes started leaving, I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. I was afraid somebody might notice me blushing. Some guys whom I knew patted me on the back and said hello. With people pushing and bustling all around, I was pushed and suddenly went off balance. I regained my footing, but the damage was done. My hand brushed Jisha’s and I my senses went berserk.
Somebody held me tight. It was Rohit. He looked at me and nodded. But I couldn’t comprehend it, as I had still not come out of the after-effects of coming in contact with Jisha. God, how did I even dream of hugging her?
We were all back in class. I went out again to get some chalk pieces for the class. There she was again. She seemed to be in a hurry. I swerved aside, to give her away. But she stood right in front of me, her beautiful dark black eyes looking directly into mine. We were so close, I could actually smell the sweet-smelling shampoo off her hair.
She held my hand and said with a smile “Thank you. But this time, we should be quicker”. And she just walked away.
Okay. Now this was too much for me to digest. Jisha had just come up to me and held my hand and said something. And it was not just something, but she seemed to have talked about
my dream. Either we had the same dream or it was not a dream at all and had taken place in reality. I stumbled into my classroom and took my seat in the corner, alone as usual.
Suddenly my hair stood on its end. My excitement knew no bounds. I just felt the that energy wave. Again.
I turned around and asked “Did you all just feel that?”