Short Story #5

Genre: Dark fiction

Words: 670

The Robbery

a short story

by Sarthak Parajulee

 

My head throbbed as I staggered out of my bedroom.

The hall had an unnerving silence. The sort that follows or precedes a storm.

But my furniture were where they were supposed to be and none of the expensive artifacts in my collection were missing.

So no robbery.

Then why had someone drugged me?

Randev was my last visitor, as far as I remembered. And he did need money, according to the conversation we had a few days back. But I’d checked the safe in my room and the cash was still there.

So what the fuck was going on?

I trudged toward the main door across the marbled gallery, cold biting into my bare feet. My head screamed on every step and a deep burn had started in my gut.

But I didn’t have time for that just yet.

I pushed the door open and observed the perimeter.

The entire facility lay in a comforting tranquility. My luxurious sedan sat proudly on the front porch. And the two guards stood at their post in the main gate with all the enthusiasm of a koala bear.

I called out to one of them and waved a hand.

He came rushing. For all his military training, he panted like an old fool.

“Sir?”

“Anyone left the premise recently?”

He looked perplexed. “Recently?”

“An hour or two back?”

He shook his head. “No, sir.”

“You sure you’re doing your fucking job right?”

The color of his face turned white. “Sir… no sir. I mean, yes, sir.” He bit his tongue. “Mr. Randev is the only one to leave. But it was very early in the morning.”

“What are you talking about? He arrived early in the morning.”

The guard frowned, his fear turning into irritation. “Um, sorry, sir… but he arrived yesterday morning. He left this morning.”

My throat went dry and I struggled to find my voice. I could hear my heartbeat like drums playing in my headphones.

Yesterday?

I pressed against the side of my head and nearly lost my equilibrium. Gods, the pain!

The guard tried to come to my aid but I send him away and, somehow, managed to bring myself back inside the house safely.

I slogged to the center of the hall, with a hand under my belly, and slumped myself down on the couch.

My ex-wife was right. I was too fast on trusting people.

First, I hit Randev with my car, to which he reacts very politely and is generous enough to not file complain. Then he shows up at my office door for a fucking job and looks surprised to find me there. And for the first time in twenty years, my car breaks in the middle of nowhere and he shows up to drop me home.

Ha, ha, ex-wife. I looked skyward. You happy now?

With all the shouting and moving about, the pain had doubled up. It bit at the side of my body and I struggled to maintain my sanity.

What that sly bastard took away was beyond me.

In a delirium of pain and frustration, I saw the images of the other day when the two of us had a nice little chat over a cup of tea. Like friends long lost.

He had spoken of his problems and I had revealed my vulnerabilities. Usually the stuff you would share over two bottles of a whiskey. He had won my trust, after all.

He had lamented about his wife’s failed kidney so it was logical to think he took off with a load of cash. But I still couldn’t find anything missing so…

I froze.

A sudden horror crept up my body, all the way from my feet to the head like a slow volcano.

Slowly, I lifted the thin fabric of my cotton shirt above my waist.

There, at the side of my belly, I saw a long gash — well stitched, and already healing.

“Bloody motherfucker!”

Short Story #4

Genre: Literary Fiction (I think!)

550 words

The Shattering

a short story by

Sarthak Parajulee

THE LOUD EXPLOSION SOMEWHERE a few meters behind his car started Wen. There wasn’t much suggesting to the exact reason for the noise but his sense of politics told him that the rebellion had begun.

So it must have been around 6 pm. Funny how he didn’t need watch these days.

He saw a large column of men approaching him. Firelight raised high in their hands – a tide of flames blanketing over a crowd of men. Something told Wen that these were angry faces, hard and cold. Unforgiving.

Wen wasn’t exactly an enemy of this mob. But he owned a car and that meant a capital possession several steps higher in the social ladder than the rebels. Bad place and position to run out of gas.

Police siren sounded in the distance. Violence Control Front or VCF, as they were more popularly called these days. Perhaps, he would be saved after all.

The heavily fortified vehicle skidded around a corner and stopped directly ahead him. A muscular officer with massive mustache raised his protective helmet and eye gear and looked him straight in the eye. Then frowned down at Wen’s out-of-gas Corolla for a bit longer than was required.

I poked my head out of the window. “Sir, can…”

“The heck you think you’re doing, Sir?”

His tone of voice betrayed his use of the word ‘Sir’.

“I ran out of gas,” Wen said, as politely as possible. Didn’t need to add to the list of his hostilities. Frankly, he couldn’t afford it at the moment.

“Please step off your damned vehicle and get out of the road.”

“But my car.” He looked around, frantic. There wasn’t a single vehicle in the street. And why would there be any. They had clearly stated that no vehicle were supposed to be moving at the moment. Who would be that stupid?

Except him, of course.

“Sir,” Wen tried to reason with his tender tone. “My car…”

“Forget your damned car.”

Wen’s eyes widened for a second or two. Then the urgency of the situation struck him. Get out of way or die.

The forces coked their guns and took aim, directly behind him, at the oncoming rebellions.

Get out or die.

Wen ran to the side of the road, slightly crouching, cursing to himself.

The noise behind him was deafening – guns roaring, magazines reloading, people screaming, VCF barking orders, rebellion scattering.

Wen dared to look back only when he had safely reached the footpath and behind the cover of a frail wall.

His car was full of holes, at least three tires had popped, the windshield had shattered.

Surprisingly, and unfortunately, the real horror lay some twenty feet away from his car.

Bloody bodies lying upon one another, dead eyes staring at nothing. Some would say it was violence control. No. Seeing it up close, it was clear to Wen – such an act could only be defined as a massacre.

“Well done, boys,” the mustached officer roared. He signaled something and the fortified van reversed and drove away the way they had come.

He stood stunned, staring at them mouth-gaped. This is the price of human lives these days. A pat in the back!

No one human deserves that from another human.

Everybody, these days, are worried about a shattering nation. But he feared more for that shattering of humanity. A nation can be, hopefully, rebuilt – even the loss of human lives, with time, might recover. He doubted the same could be said for the loss of humanity.

But what can I do? Turn blind eyes and deaf ears like everyone else, of course, and keep believing that bad things won’t happen to him.

His watched his car – another shattered victim of the violence.

I need a mechanic, perhaps he can salvage something out of it.

From the far eastern side of the road, he heard an ambulance

I hope they can salvage something too.

END

Short Story #3

Genre: Drama

Words: 3000

Accounts, Balanced

by Sarthak Parajulee

The irony of his life was that he was named Ram — a Hindu God, who is the epitome of character, integrity, truth, and sacrifice.

But she didn’t had to know that just yet.

“I’m an accountant,” he said, tugging at the collar of his shirt. “I… um… do accounts.” Whatever that is.

Her eyes went wide. “Get out!” She rested her palms on the table and studied his face. “You’re too good-looking for that sorta job.”

And now we’re flirting. His lips curled to a smile. That’s believable. “You don’t look too bad either,” he teased, “for a newspaper columnist.”

She leaned in, narrowing her eyes. “You’re kidding, right? Newspaper columnist are one of the sexiest looking girls out there.”

“Well…” He cocked his head to a side, pondering over the new revelation. It was hard to argue with that fact with her in front of him. “If you say so.”

There was a long, awkward silence in which she began to study the paintings on the wall next to their table. “Ah. I love this,” she said.

“It’s victorian, isn’t it?” Ram commented. “Michael Angelo, I think.” He bluffed the first thing that came to his mind.

She paused. “Well…” Then smiled. “I was only trying to kill the silence. Don’t have a clue about paintings.” Just his luck.

Ah. The perks of getting the corner table. When that awkward moment crawls in, you could always grow an intensive interest in the walls.

“So… Miss…” There was a low beep, barely audible to the girl across him, and he checked his phone for the notification.

“Well, let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?” she said with a shrug of her shoulder, clearly impatient.

He sighed and nodded. “Let’s do just that.” He put the phone back into his coat pocket and looked up. “So what’s your final offer?”

“Fifteen,” she said, folding her arms across his chest and a firm smile planted on her face.

Ram smiled at that. Go on. Act like you don’t care and you’re super confident about making this deal. Sorry, miss. But I am the corporate haggler here.

“You know as well that the figure is nothing to me.” He shrugged. “Especially when I consider my stakes in this.”

“Sorry, Mr. Ram. But it’s the only figure I can offer.” That flirtatious smile of hers never dipped.

“Listen, Miss… ?”

“Apekshya,” she said. “And you can lose the formalities.”

“Fine,” he nodded. “Apekshya… If that’s the case, I think we’re done here.”

She fought hard to conceal it but Ram caught a sudden surge of dread — that particular sinew over her eyebrows — on her face.

“Mr. Ram… I think it is in best…”

An incoming waiter forced her to bite back her words. He placed a couple of glasses and a bottle of Santa Rita in the table and began filling our glasses. This time, she resorted to her phone to kill the silence.

A couple of swipes into her iPhone later, she looked up and thanked the waiter for his service. Turning toward Ram with a potent smile, she resumed right from where she’d left. “It is in both of our best of interests that we work together.”

Ram shrugged. “I don’t know. I can get plenty of other journalists who would write this for me. And would pay me good too handsomely.”

She opened her mouth to say something but then quickly closed them. “But…” She gulped. “Listen, Ram. Let me get this straight to you.” She sighed. “You’ve got to help me out here.” Her voice almost a whisper now. “My company won’t trust me with a rupee more than that.

Ah. And a sudden change of power, then? How delightful!

“Just listen to me…”

Ram rested his elbow on the table and his head upon the opened palm. “Go.”

She sighed yet again, a particular habit he was beginning to find pretty cute by the time. “I need this story. I… This is my last shot at my career. Please.”

“I’m sorry for your… um, situation… but I cannot be emotional about this. I’m putting way too much on line for this. If this goes bad, I’m left without a job, without a sellable expertise, and without a friggin’ PR. Not to mention with the jaws of the most powerful corporate tycoon at my throat.”

Ram could see her resolve break slightly. Her old confidence was replaced by lines of doubt all over her face. Boy did that confident smile dip from her face!

He decided to go for the KO. “I can’t afford to be gracious, Apekshya. It’s take it or leave it.”

She rested her elbows on the table and placed held her head in both hands. “Maybe…” She looked up and Ram could actually she her throat quelch as she swallowed hard. “Maybe there’s another way?

“Maybe… I could reward you in some other way?”

Oh, God, please no. “Apekshya, I truly sympathise with your situation. And I simply cannot imagine myself misusing your situation.” Some desperate night in the distant future, Ram knew he’d be looking back on this moment with a lot of regret. But as of now, in all his senses and ethical judgement, he did what he thought was right.

Some things are just unforgivable. Question his integrity as much as you’d like, but he wasn’t a sinner. And that realization, perhaps, was the boiling point for all the emotions this girl had managed to held on to herself so far.

She broke into tears. Slowly, at first, and then a little wilder.

Concerned, Ram watched around the hall for any over-smart intruders taking too much interest in someone else’s problem. Luckily, no one really saw. Or cared. Whatever.

Perks of having the corner table.

“Now, now. Please…” He tried to conjure his best soothing voice.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” she said, voice muffled. “I really didn’t mean to cry. Oh… You must think I’m such a… ” She allowed the unsaid word, bitch, hanging in air and took a handful of napkin off the table to wipe her tears. The manner in which she was careful about her makeup even then was truly remarkable.

“I don’t know why I even suggested that!” she continued. “I didn’t know I could go so low.”

Ram couldn’t resist the urge to rest his hand above hers. “No. Please…” He searched for the most diplomatic of words. “I am not judging you or anything, so please stop.”

She nodded but Ram didn’t think she could ever forgive herself for suggesting him to sleep with her for the story.

“All right,” Ram suddenly said, drumming his fingers on the table. He took a long sigh, pondering over it, assuring himself that it would work out. Somehow.

“I’ll give you the story,” he finally said.

Her eyes lit up but they were still doubtful.

“Fifteen should do it, don’t worry.”

Her lips twitched at the corners but eyes turned even more glassy. “Oh. I cannot…” Her voice shook with emotion. “I cannot thank you enough.”

He raised his hand before her face. “Don’t. Just realize that my career and, ultimately, my life hangs on this thread. Make sure you don’t knit it too weak, darlin’. If your article is just another article. And if it isn’t moving enough to get the general public hating those bastards… then I’ve sacrificed my career for nothing.”

She nodded furiously. “Don’t worry. I’ll work my ass off to get you the story and the coverage you deserve.” She raised her glass. “To working our asses off.”

They clinked their glasses and sipped on the sweet taste of Santa Rita, glancing each other from over the rim of the glasses, basking each other in something that could be only explained as a deep affection.

#

Ram waked up to the sound of a heavy pounding on his door. He opened his eyes just a crack and saw the table clock read 11 A.M.

He jerked upright, jumped out of bed, and slipped into cotton pants and a loose white tee shirt. It was going to be a sweaty morning.

He casually opened the door, confident about who it was on the otherside.

“You shit-ass!” The voice was stone over iron. Rough. Sharp. Angry.

“Mr. Pandei.” He gave him the best of his morning smile and morning breath. “A very good morning to you too!”

“Tell me,” he fumed, entering inside, and shoving The Himalayan Times in Ram’s face. “Tell me you did this so I can fuck you up right now.”

“I…” He took a step back and tried to read the headline. He knew what would be said in that article but it was the choice of words he was rather curious about. Just how low are you going to show them, Miss Apekshya?

His eye lit up as he saw the headline. Smiling, he clutched the paper away from his boss’s hand and read on:

BILLIONS GO INTO RICH MAN’S POCKETS IN THE NAME OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY CAMPAIGN

Everybody thought that for once, in this country, a corporate giant was making a difference. That they were looking at people and society below them. For the first time, they had us thinking that someone actually believes in moving forward and taking the society along with him.

Sorry, gentlemen. All a hoax.

Senior Member of Pandei Group of Industries and company’s Director of Accounts, Ram Mani Ekrat has confessed with the press that a major part of the money collected in the name of their famous “Help Us Help Them” social enhancement campaign, much popularly coined these days as a “Corporate Social Responsibility” campaign, has gone straight into the pockets of the corporate cannibals, the go-getters of…

Ram bit his tongue. He doubted his boss had needed reading any further.

Pandei’s hand grasped his throat.

He was whining about something and cursing even more. But Ram’s thoughts were on the crying face of Apekshya that day in the restaurant. She had certainly held back nothing. All her anger and frustration with her career and the corporate giants putting her under their thumb had made her vomit out the venom in form of words in the Sunday morning edition of the Himalayan Times.

“What are you smiling about, you fool?” the boss spat. “Do you realize what damage this would do to our reputation? How will we ever get anymore investors with the world thinking that we are some sort of cheat?”

Thinking?” You are a cheat, you little idiot. “Well, maybe you should have thought of that before robbing all those money away.”

Pandei’s eyes went wide. “Robbing?” He closed his hand into a tight fist. “That was my money, in the first place, you fool!”

“People donated those so some people on the eastern part of the country would get a roof over their school. No so that you could add another sedan to your automobile collection!”

“Ah.” He made an arc in the air before Ram’s face, as if to create a rainbow. “The invincible Justice-man.” He scowled. “Where was your sense of justice when we planned this thing out. You were the one to place this idea in the first place!”

Ram frowned. “At first, yes! But didn’t I warn you that this would be wrong? More than once, I’d suggested you against this!”

“Against this?” He started raising fists in air. “Against this?”

Few of Ram’s neighbours, sharing the same floor, walked past the door, passing curious glances toward them and then looking away quickly as they looked back, and murmuring to one another.

“I know what it is, Ram” Mr. Pandei continued as the neighbors left. “Don’t take me for a fool.” He shook his head in disapproval. “It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about not getting the deserving share, isn’t it? You felt you had been wronged, you little fucker.”

Ram smiled. “I never took you for a fool, sir. That’s why I was so shocked when you cut me out of my share.” He shrugged. “I knew you had become a…” He pretended to be referring to the paper in his hand. “… what were the words in here? Ah, right. The corporate cannibal.”

Pandei gritted his teeth. “And what does that make you? You are just as guilty in this.”

“Ah, but I confessed, you see.” He leaned against the wall and stood casually. “I am cleansed of my crime. Even the Gods acknowledge that rule.”

“You won’t get away with this,” Pandei said, backing out. “I will make sure you rot your rest of the life away. I’ll make sure you get no more job, and no more…”

“Watch the door,” Ram casually said.

His boss stopped short just in time to keep himself from smashing on the sharp edge of the door.

“You’re fucked,” he said, stepping out. “I assure you. You’re life’s over.”

Ram stepped on the threshold and poked out his head. His boss was just at the stairs, still cursing.

“Excuse me, Sir,” he screamed from the doorway. “So do I need to submit my written resignation or should we considered it done?”

#

Ram strolled through the sidewalk of the UN Park. He had begun enjoying his mornings in that place. And most part of his afternoons as well. Not much else to do with his life, anyway.

He often thought he got a bit carried away in that restaurant that day. Should have asked the girl to get the hell out of there and searched some other reporter who would have paid way more than ‘fifteen’. There’s something about crying girls that disrupts men’s thinking capacity.

But would some other person had written the piece with so much heart that caused the District Court to serve Mr. Pandei with 2 years of prison sentence for a deliberate involvement in fraud and scam.

Honestly. He didn’t even know that there was such a law written in the new constitution. And Apekshya had forced a good percentage of the people in the legal system to activate it with that 14-by-20 article. He had to thank her for that.

And what good would that do? He wouldn’t be removed from the corporate blacklist, would he? No one wants a backstabber in their organization.

Maybe he should have just swallowed the way Pandei treated him and keep kissing his ass. At least, he would have had a good office and good money. And what else do you need for a good life?

I wouldn’t be happy, he reminded himself. Not due to his ethical woes, he wouldn’t cheat himself with that sort of excuse. But for not making his boss pay for the all the wrongs he inferred upon him.

Suddenly a couple passed them, trying to catch their troublesome child. Poor kid must have found the open space a joyous break from the monotony of the haphazard construction of the city.

I wouldn’t have felt this free, he suddenly realized. I can at least sleep well knowing that I made him suffer. Though, the apartment itself, where he actually slept was in a serious danger of being taken away. EMIs don’t pay themselves. Not unless you have a job and a routine salary structure.

There was a low humming and a little vibration. It took a while but it started Ram back from his thoughts.

“Hello,” he said into the phone..

“Hey,” the voice was unmistakable. “Remember me?”

“Apekshya.” He didn’t let the surprise show in his tone. “How do I owe this pleasure?”

“Well, I had been meaning to call,” she said. “For a while.”

“Is everything alright? That falling career and all?”

“Well, let’s just say the story helped me keep my job at least. And people recognize me these days.”

“Huh. Isn’t that nice?”

There was a short silence.

“You know,” she said at the end of it. “A couple of days back I was talking to this friend of mine who works at this top news channel in our country…” She took a pause.

“You prefer to keep that name a secret?”

“Let’s just say its logo involves a lot of blue color. And it’s got its own magazine too.”

“And… ?” Well, she had his attention now.

“See, here’s the thing… She’s thinking of a concept. A fiery talk show with the current wizards of the corporate world! She’s planning on raising those issues that I am supposedly an expert on.”

He laughed. “Let me guess. Ethical backstabbing and the rise of corporate cannibalism?”

“Um.” He heard her laugh and almost pictured the image of her sitting across him in the restaurant that day. “Anyways. I convinced her that I had a far better expert on hand. One who is dying to exact his revenge upon the corporate world!”

“Wait, exact a… what?”

“Yeah. I added that for a dramatic effect. I told her to think of all the spicy and hard-hitting issues you could raise and the reaction of the corporates. And your recent confession about the twenty crore rupees fiasco would create an unbeatable hype for the show. It’d be an instant hit!”

“But… I…” He trailed off. What could he say? He knew she was right. He could really exact revenge upon the corporate world.

I know all the ins and outs of the market and can serve that spicy chit-chat that viewers crave for. This is something I can really do!

“Would you like me to fix you a meeting with her?”

Like, hell yes. “Sure. But… what about you? You would leave this opportunity?”

“Writing is all I care about. I wouldn’t have that much time anyway.” She laughed. “One thing, though… She wants you be ready to create spicy shows, if you know what I mean. Not every story is going to be the ‘CSR-fiasco’ interesting. You might have to dig up old facts, twist them, and make them appear something else… you understand?”

Another silence.

“Well?” she probed.

Ram scoffed and heard his own breath through the speaker. “Dear, girl, you just described everything that I’d been doing for all those years as an accountant!”

My approval took a moment to register into her mind. “Great! I’ll give my friend a call then. See you later!”

She hung up and left Ram thinking.

Could he really go for another round of searching, twisting, bending, and misrepresenting facts for self-fulfilling needs.

Something told him that he was more than ready for this. Suddenly it occurred to him — perhaps, he was born to do this?

But the irony of his life was that he was named Ram.

Short Story #2

Genre: Dark Fiction

Words: 2250

THE COLLECTOR

The bones felt as soft as the mud that buried them.

Avyan grimaced as he took the skull in his hands, softly and lightly, aware that it might crumble to dust with slightest of pressure. “Uh. I hate this.”

“Nobody fucking loves this, patee,” said the man in red cap, standing on the ground over him. He rubbed his chilled tip of the nose with a finger, and breathed out a misty breath in the cold air. “Let’s get the fucking job done and go.”

Avyan wondered what would Reena do if she knew about this. He lost his concentration and nearly dropped the skull.

“Careful,” Sayam scowled. “A broken one would do us no good, you know that.”

“If you’re so Mr. Careful, why don’t you get down here and get your hands dirty instead of bossing over me.”

Sayam stared at him coldly. “I’ll do my part when it comes to that. You do yours.”

Avyan knew better than to try and have the last word with the big man. He shook his head and did a quick inspection of the perimeter. The graveyard was massive, about twenty acres, silent except for the crickets. Some fifteen graves had been dug up, bones taken.

Cursing, he placed the skull with the rest of its body in a specially designed suitcase. Then slowly lifted the container and stacked it on the rear of a blue cargo van, amidst other similar suitcases.

“When will this end, Sayam?” Avyan pondered.

“For now, soon as we deliver this to him.” He motioned for Avyan to sit in the van. “Let’s fucking leave this place!”

Jumping in, he roared start the engine and hit the gas. The van’s rear tires skittered in the greasy mud, wet with the evening rain, then found back their balance, and Sayam drove away.

Avyan checked the mirror. The graveyard within the dark forest almost faded behind him. It took him two more minutes before he could take a breath of relief.

“I swear, Sayam,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Reena’s medics, I’d have never put up for this shit.”

Sayam scoffed. “Of course, you wouldn’t.”

Avyan frowned at him. “No! Really. I have to remind myself of her paling face each time I take a skull in my hands.”

“Keep telling yourself that. But you’re not fooling me. The job pays well and we both know you love money as much as I do.”

Avyan shook his head. “This work… it’s…” He sighed. “My old man. If there’s one thing he taught me… it’s that you shouldn’t disrespect the dead. You never get to live in peace.”

“Shit,” Sayam cursed. “Save the theatrics for someone else. You’re no saint so don’t try and act like one.” He spat out the window. “Your father lived in a different world. Ain’t so now.

“This world is full of diggers. People who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. People who are ready to dig from other’s wealth, success… life. People like us. We ride our own luck, patee. So fuck the dead and fuck your father’s lessons.”

Avyan thought about it. He’s right. The world is a different place now. He silently prayed for forgiveness with his late father. I need that money. I need it for the family. I need for Reena

Her thought jostled Avyan’s spirit and he attempted a laughter to lighten the mood. “You should have seen your face back there, man. You were like…”

“Fuck!”

“Exactly!”

“Shut up, you dumb head,” Sayam cursed. “Look up.”

A mile ahead he could see the glowing jackets of the Police.

“Y… you’ve got all the papers, right?”

“Yeah, right.” Sayam scowled. “And I pay my taxes too.”

Avyan clicked his tongue. “Shit.”

Ahead, a cop came out and waved the red light.

Sayam sped up.

“What the…” Avyan held against the dashboard. “Slow down, man. Pull over!”

“And what? Rot in jail like our pals in the back of the van?”

Sayam honked the horn, loud and clear. The warning was delivered.

But the cop was resilient. He put both his hands in air, sounding the whistle, and waving the red light.

“For God’s sake, you’ll run him over, Sayam!” Avyan clutched tighter at the dashboard, as if that would somehow stop the damn vehicle.

“Huh.” Sayam spit out the window and gritted his teeth. “So be it.”

The van hit the officer. He went down, and the van bumped over his body.

“Shit!” Avyan cringed as he almost felt the tires beneath his seat crush bones. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!”

He heard police sirens behind him. But they died out soon enough as Sayam sped up over one-hundred-and-ten in the wet black-topped road. This was where his exceptional driving skills came in handy.

In no time, they were back into the silence of the night and darkness of the long, lonely road.

Avyan didn’t utter a single word for quite a while. They drove in silence over the stretched highway, full of bumps, cracks, and sharp turns.

“I am done with this,” Avyan finally said.

Sayam didn’t seem to hear him. Or didn’t care, Avyan couldn’t tell. We killed a fucking cop! Digging up dead was one thing, putting a live one in there was entirely other.

“You hear me?” Avyan pressed.

“Yeah, I hear you,” Sayam said, looking up straight with a grumpy face. “But don’t you dare mess this up before we take the fucking money.”

A bus passed them, headlights blinding Avyan, and the sound of the motor breaking the monotony of the silent night for a second.

“We need to clear things out tonight,” he pressed on.

“I’m warning you, patee. Don’t mess this up.” He shot Avyan a bloody look. “Or I swear to God, I’ll fucking kill you.”

#

They left the black-topped road and hit a gravelled path — branching out from the main road, deeper into the woods.

Some fifteen miles further, the road took a massive turn to reveal an iron gate at the end of it.

Avyan shivered at the look of the gate — though he’d seen it many time over now.

He swallowed hard as they drove to the foot of the gate and a huge metal skull etched onto the gate’s front frowned down on him.

Sayam honked. Once. Twice.

The gates creaked open slowly and the castle-like mansion in the middle of a football-field-sized garden loomed into the view.

Sayam drove straight to the front porch.

A huge man with ugly facial features, and no particular expression, stood guard at the main entrance.

Avyan and Sayam stepped off the van and nodded at the big guy. He didn’t meet their eyes, or acknowledge them in any way, but opened the front door for them all the same.

They entered through and the door slammed shut behind them.

Avyan wrinkled his nose as the smell of rot and sweat engulfed him.

An unending hallway stretched out before them. Cold, white marbles decorated the floor, and dull mural stains gave away the age of the mansion itself. For a grand mansion, the interior was relatively low profile — only glimmers of its past grandeur was alive in the form of artistic wall carvings, hanged paintings, and aankhijhyal that ran the entire length of the hallway.

“Don’t you think this guy’s a bit strange?” Avyan whispered.

“When money’s involved, friend, I don’t think at all.” Sayam said, eyes straight ahead.

The hallway gave led to a dark room — save for the center, where a single ray of white light revealed a man seated on a desk. His lean and bony built was eminent even from the distance.

He was their employer.

As they approached him before his desk, he lifted his head from whatever it was that had his attention so far and grinned.

“Ah,” the employer clapped his hands. Grinning with all his yellow teeth, he rushed toward Sayam. “Where is it? Where is it? Where?”

Up close, he looked younger beyond his years — he was actually a young guy, in his late twenties at the most. His checkered shirt and knee-length pants also didn’t help.

He laughed harder now. “Show me show me show me show me show me!” He snapped his head all over the place, once looking even behind Sayam.

“It’s in the van,” Sayam said, irritated. “My money?”

“Don’t you worry,” the employer said, as slowly as you’d talk to a child of seven. His bespectacled eyes twinkled and he pointed to a briefcase just beside his desk. “I never forget the payment.”

He grinned as wide as his cheeks allowed. “And you’re almost at the end of our contract.”

Avyan gasped. Almost! He looked at Sayam frantically. I can’t do this anymore.

Sayam glared back at him and shook his head once.

No. Avyan swallowed. It ends here. “Sir,” he said. “I would… would like to…”

Sayam touched his shoulders. “Shut up.”

The man frowned. “Now what is this?”

Avyan opened his mouth to say something but then quickly closed them and looked at his feet.

The man then watched Sayam with his hollow blue eyes.

The bigger man sighed. “Uh. Fuck.” He gave Avyan a hateful stare that told he would smack him anytime soon.

“Look, mister,” he said to the man, glaring at Avyan til the last possible second. “It’s just that… erm, my man, here, he thinks… Well, we think… I mean, we probably shouldn’t…”

“Ugh.” The man’s face fell — not much different to that of a child, who had just been told that he was grounded. “I almost saw it coming this time.”

Sayam and Avyan looked at one another. This time?

The man in shorts scowled and spread his hands before the duo. “Do you realize the cost of having a passion as beautiful as this?”

Behind them, the big man, who had been standing guard at the front door, entered and closed the door shut behind him.

“The measures you have to take to keep it discreet?” The man whistled. “Show them, Bali!”

The big guard stepped a little to his left and hit a switch.

The gallery lightened just enough to illuminate the enormous height of the walls of the huge room.

They Avyan saw what the man actually wanted them to see.

From the very top of the wall to at least six feet above the ground, several rows of human bones decorated the wall’s surface — here was a skull, there were some ribs, higher up some finger, and higher still some sort of pelvic bone — as if the dead bones were some sort of rare animal parts.

Avyan recoiled and stepped back. “What the fuck!” Several hundred dead heads seemed to be laughing down on him from around the wall.

Sayam stared in awe. “This is what you do with them?” He shook his head. “All that money for this?”

“Some collect stamps, some collect coins.” The man shrugged. “I have a sincere interest for human bones.” He shrugged. “Do not judge me.”

“But… this is so many.” Avyan shook his head. “We could have hardly delivered you fifty skeletons so far.”

“And you think you are the only people who would do anything for a little money?” He scoffed. “The world is full of desperate bastards.”

“You mad idiot,” Sayam pointed one large finger at him. “We’re done here. I want my money and we’re gone.”

The employer let out a long and hard sigh. “Every fucking time.” He shook his head. “Why do every one of you come to this point?”

Avyan narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean– Aaaaargh!”

Something struck him hard on the back of his head and he went on his knees. Beside him, he saw Sayam roll on the ground as well.

Avyan caught back his breath and tired to stand but was pressed down by one huge and strong palm. The large man, Bali, stood behind him.

He felt a cold metal brush the side of his head. From the corner of his eye, he saw a gun.

“What are you fucking doing?” he screamed. “Please leave me. You can have your fucking money. I don’t need it!”

“Ah. And now you don’t need it.” He tsked. “Every. Fucking. Time. You guys are so predictable.

“Do you think I care about whether or not you want my money?” He gestured around the hall. “Look around you. I pay you lakhs of rupees to get me some rotting bones just so I can decor my walls with it.” He stepped up and kicked Avyan in the gut, sending a crushing pain through his body.

“You fuckers could have just put up with this and continue to make money.” He punctuated each words with a kick. “But no.” He scowled. “Every fucking one o’ you has to go and decline to serve me anymore.”

Avyan lay on his side, clutching the side of his abdomen. He saw Sayam lying across him, flat unconscious. Perhaps, he took the shot from the big man harder. Or perhaps, he simply thought better than to get up.

“Please…” Avyan squealed, feelng the cold tile under his skin.

“Goodbye, gentlemen,” the bone collector said. “It’s been a pleasure knowing you. I’ll make sure,” he looked around the wall, as if searching for something, “that you get the best spot in the house.”

Then he vanished behind the darkness of the far end of the room, his chilling laughter echoing in the halls.

The big man came forward, gun held high. It seemed he looked right through Avyan. The cold muzzle of the gun touched his temple. He wanted to retaliate but the collectors attacks had left him powerless.

Sayam opened his eyes, a slightest of cracks. He pressed the back of his head, sighed, and looked at the gun pressed to the side of Avyan’s head.

And Sayam’s eyes went wide with horror, perhaps, only just realizing that it wasn’t a bad dream.

Avyan felt warm tears on his cheek. “Please…” he squeaked, his voice barely audible. “My wife… she’s sick.” He screamed his heart out, his leg half paralyzed, his hand useless.

Through those tear filled eyes, and a glassy vision, he thought he saw the cop’s contorted face slammed up against their van’s windshield — that horror-wrenched face.

Perhaps, they should have just stopped and let the cops do their job. Yes they’d have to do prison time. But sooner or later it’d have been proved that the bone that they carried were only dug up from the grave.

Above him, the big man began pressing on the trigger, and Avyan felt the weight of the muzzle shift on the side of his temple. He swallowed and met Sayam’s stunned eyes.

“Should’ve pulled over, buddy,” he croaked, managing a wry smile.

Yes, they’d have been humiliated in the public, press, media. They’d have served a sentence and, at most, would have been permanently secluded from the society.

At least, it wouldn’t have been death.

END

Short Story #1

TELEKIN

by Sarthak Parajulee

Part 1:

My fingers fumbled around the inside of my coat pockets and found the last cigarette. I pressed it tight between my lips. I didn’t need the smoke, really. Just the touch and faint aroma calmed my senses on many different levels than one realized.

Kahl lit it for me. Ironic, that. The doctor who never smoked carried the lighter for some reason. I didn’t bother asking about it. The next thing I know, his answer would be that few aliens planted it on him. Such bizarre were the turn of events that day—anything seemed abso-bloody-lutely possible!

I waited for the doctor to say something. Anything.

“Telekinesis,” he finally said, voice rasp and weary…yet unnaturally calm. Doctor Kahl.

“Telekinesis.” His words echoed through my tight lips and I immediately felt like a complete retard.

“You seem surprised,” the Doctor said in that oh-so-casual way of his.

My eyes twitched. “That is your conclusion?”

“A speculation.” He rested his elbow against the table as he leaned closer to me. “For now.”

“Outrageous, doctor,” I barked. “Even for you.”

“Human mind, my friend,” Kahl said, standing from his chair. “It is an outrageous instrument. Capable of outrageous feats.”

I decided to go with it for the time being. It was still a better concept than an alien implantation. One that was slightly backed by science and years of research—even though on a completely controversial level.

I let out a ring of smoke toward the roof. “Say, it’s true. Say, I did it.” I shook my head, sighing. “Where does that leave me now?”

He smacked his lips. “That, Professor, leaves you in a rather difficult situation.”

I rolled my eye at the gash in my left hand. Still fresh and open. “I can see that.” I gulped. “What do you suggest further? Should I just…paralyze my mind?”

He chuckled. “If one could paralyze his mind just by simple will and on a whim, the world would have got three or four Buddha by now.” He waved his palm dismissively. “No, my friend. That sort of mental power is difficult to achieve—only possible, even if it were ever possible, through extensive meditation, focus, and will.”

“So, basically, I need to achieve Nirvana.”

The doctor eyed me from above his specs and gave a half-hearted shrug. “Basically…”

I stood up. “Yeah. So, thanks for your time, doctor. You’ve been as helpful as ever.” I managed a smile and turned to leave.

“Szel,” he said. One of the rare instances, even after years of knowing each other, when he called me by my first name. “I suggest you stay under my observation.”

“In your facility?”

His brows furrowed deep. “In my home.”

I scoffed. “Home?” I shook my head. “You mean asylum.”

“Home to some.” The doctor pursed his lips. “Asylum to others.”

I narrowed my eyes. “And what would it be for me?”

He watched me with cold eyes, bearing into mine as if he intended to see my very soul. I expected a quick come back, like he usually does. But he stood in silence. For once.

“No, thank you, doctor…” I said, gulping. “Kahl.” One of the rare instances when I called him by his first name. I offered him my hand and he shook it heartily.

I left the doctor’s hospice with nothing but an abominating theory and the bitter taste of medicine at the back of my mouth. A useless pill, that one. I frowned to myself. Useless pill from a useless doctor.

The guard at the elevator to my apartment shot me a salute.

Ugh. “Don’t do that, Mic,” I said. “You embarrass me.”

He only smiled at that. He always smiles, Mic.

I waited for the elevator. My mind wandered off in idleness and began counting the number of loose seats in the lobby.

One of the seats flew and came toward me, as if there was a giant magnet on me.

Shit! I looked away, forcing my mind to think about something else. I never turned to find if it did the trick. Didn’t even wait for the elevator anymore. I shot straight for the stairs and climbed up–two steps at a time.

Reaching the fourth floor was tiresome. Getting old, Szel. At thirty at that! In our profession, that was no age to get old. One of my colleagues…former colleagues…took twenty classes a day at sixty-five.

Reaching inside my coat for the apartment keys, I trudged toward it. I was almost thankful for the door to not fly open on my thought. Unlike earlier that day in my office. I could do with a few less glares for the day.

I turned the lock only to find my keys defunct. Not now. I pressed harder, twisted this way and that, even frowned at it a little. Nothing.

“I’m throwing you out, Szel,” a voice came, hard and cold. Cruel. My landlord, no doubt.

“You gotta’ be kiddin’ me, Redge.”

“Not this time, no.” His voice was firm.

I wiped my forehead. “Look, man. I’ve had a long day.”

“I don’t care. You don’t pay. You don’t stay.”

I really hoped that he’d disappear at the moment. Where’s the damned telekinesis when you need it? “A’ight. Lemme’ stay for the night. I’ll find my way out on the first light tomorrow.”

“Jessi’s Den. Only two blocks way. I hear their service is good.”

I sighed. “And my furnitures? My stuffs? Clothes?”

“Tomorrow. I’ll open it for an hour. Get your things out.”

He turned to leave. “Be grateful, Szel. I’m letting you have all your stuffs. I could’ve used that to recollect your debts.”

I smacked my lips. I’d been tight on my bills since…the weakness. Earnings were hard as it were, the weakness left me famished on all my resources. Of course, I couldn’t borrow from my colleagues, or Kahl even. What’d be of the dignity of the great Szel! Way to go, Professor.

As if everything that day hadn’t been worse enough, the God decided to play some sort of practical joke. It rained.

I walked, holding my jacket as far up the head as possible, utterly missing my umbrella tucked somewhere safely inside my apartment. I’d walked for more than two blocks, for sure. But I didn’t care if I ever passed the Jesse’s Den—getting the roof for the night were the least of my problems. I’d just lost everything I had.

My job. My apartment. My life.

Everything but the wretched weakness.

Ever since the first attack, I’d been weak. Even fainted on several different occasions. Once, shamefully, in the middle of my class. One of the students recall me ‘crying like a baby’ before I fell. One even dared confront me and ask if I…erm, sniffed.

“Psst.” A voice from the dark.

I started. ‘Shocked’ would’ve been a more natural instinct. Dark corners, only shadows in my wake, and all that—odds were good that I was about to be robbed. Except, I’d no cash on me. The perks of being broke. Finally.

“You’re the Professor, aren’t ye’?” The voice was thick with accent. For some reason, that made it a bit less scary. That and probably the pitch of it. That was no voice to have if you’re a mugger.

“Who’s asking?” I said, squinting my eyes to read his face. It always pays to recognize your mugger’s face.

I heard a hint of a scoff. Anyway, a sharp-nosed boy in a dark hoodie walked out of the shadows. Still twenty-two, maybe. “You’re in trouble, Prof?”

“Chase?” I wiped some water off my face. “That you?”

He smiled. “You’re in trouble, Prof.”

I looked at the sky. The rain showed no sign of settling. “As a matter of fact, I am.”

“Come, then,” he said. “I can get you a place.”

“Heh?” I said. His demeanor surprised me. You want to help me? Something didn’t add up.

He shrugged. “Let me help you. Don’t be too Professor Szel about it now. All human need one another, remember? Sociology 101.”

He didn’t wait for me to respond and walked away along the street.

I frowned to myself for a second or two. He used my name for an adjective.

Chase Marcoe. I was one of the nine-membered panel that sanctioned his expulsion not two years ago—basically on the accusation of…well, sniffing. The chances were real good that I’d be found dead the next morn if I followed the boy. Young boys taking to violence much quicker these days and all that.

“I won’t kill you, Prof,” he said, perhaps, sensing my hesitation and fear. His voice came distant, somewhat muted over the tattering rain, and only the silhouette of him visible under the dim light of a faraway lamp-post. “You’ve only saved my life by expelling me. Come, now.”

Maybe it was the hopelessness of my situation, but I decided to take a leap of faith. Dying didn’t seem any worse at the moment. Did I say I was stupid?

“So…” I said, walking beside him in the narrow pavement. “What have you been up to these days?”

“Really, Prof?” he raised an eyebrow. “We’re doing small talks now?” He clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Let’s not try and kill the silence, ’kay?”

I frowned. I could do with silence. “Sure.”

He stopped before a huge building—a concrete tower that reached for the skies. My neck craned to see the top of it. I swear I heard it click. “This looks like an expensive apart–”

“Not my home, Prof.” He reached inside his jacket and retrieved a credit-card thing.

I turned to him sharply, clicking my neck for the second time. “Whose, then?” You’re parents? Some mob leader you get your ‘stuff’ from? The contract killers you’ve set for me?

He stared into my eyes for a split second. “Ours.”

My eyes widened. “Ours…” Wait a second, son. Is this boy high even now?

He walked up the porch and stood before the front door. His fingers searched for something at the wall just beside the door. They stopped at a slit—so slim and almost invisible to the eye. He swiped his card in that slit. Forgot where it’d been the last time around?

The door became radiant at the hinges. There was a swirling sound and the door parted from the center, sliding inside the wall.

We stepped into an enormous hall. A single sofa sat at the far end of the room. A desk to it’s side. A lady behind the desk. And a rather ornate elevator behind the lady. Organized.

“You seem a little short on the furnitures lately,” I said casually, my gaze darting around the hall.

He didn’t react, obviously, but it was odd that the hall of that size would be made for a single sofa and a desk. To top it off, no paintings on the wall, no windows, and no real paint—an extreme white color dominated everything around us in the room—save for the sofa, the desk, and, of course, the lady.

Let me correct myself on that one. The gorgeous lady. Her beauty only elucidated with each step we took toward her.

“One-one-one,” Chase said at the desk, slamming the card on the table.

The lady looked up to meet his eyes. She frowned. “One-one-one?”

Chase half-heartedly pointed at me with his thumb.

She watched me for about five seconds. Top to as bottom as was visible. Then she rolled her eyes for no apparent reason. She, however, accepted the card and pressed a few buttons behind her desk.

“Listen,” I hissed into Chase’s ear. “If I could afford a hotel like this, I’d…”

“Not even a hotel, Prof,” Chase said. He didn’t wait for me and walked toward the elevator.

I held him at the shoulder and forced him to face me. “I’m not taking a step further. Tell me where you’re taking me or I’m taking the door.”

Chase smiled. A genuine smile. “I’m afraid, Prof. That door closed the moment we entered.”

I spun wildly at the door from where we entered. Shut as expected.

Chase grinned. A bit pretentious this time around. “And there was just one card that could open it.”

“Was?” I repeated after him absently.

I turned to look at the lady at the desk.

Gone. Even the furnitures.

The room was vacant, a sea of endless white.

I felt Chase’s breath on my ear. “I’d take that elevator.”

END of Part 1