Destiny

For every sigh of the wind that yearned to extinguish the candle’s flame, there was a vacuum, an emptiness between them that sucked in every hope of survival. In the darkest hour of the night when even the shadows crawled back to hide, the soft warmth of the candle burning away on a weather-beaten stump of a dead tree filled the forest with desperate hope. The morning was not far away. But will the candle last?

We must do what we are born to do, Mariana remembered the Colonel’s words. We must pay our debt to this world. With our gifts or with our lives. Do you not agree with me, little girl? Oh, it’s that face again. You rebellious child! The entire nation trembles at my voice but you doubt my words. My Maria, always against me. Why must you pain your poor grandfather’s heart? The Colonel would then carry her on his shoulders and together they would walk through the sunset by the sea. Mariana would stare far into the horizon until the sun had done what it was born everyday to do and she would feel sorry for him. One day I will set you free, she would quietly promise. Sipping the coconut water the Colonel would buy her, she would sit by the rocks towards the north of the beach, under the swaying coconut trees, with the salty wind rushing past their skins and gaze at the twinkling stars that slowly fill up their sky.

There was a moon once, the Colonel had told when he first showed her the sky. Big and white, she had guided mankind in darkness. The Colonel was not born when the moon was lost. She could never find any mention of it in any of the old books in her grandfather’s study and none of her friends had heard of the moon. Sometimes, she thought that the Colonel was just making it up. But on evenings like these when every fibre of her tiny being was charged with the rapturous sights of the glorious pebbles in the dark sky, she thought about the moon. The stars have been here longer than me or grandpa haven’t they? Maybe they miss her. To be so fair, so pure and so beautiful, she must have been very lonely. Maybe she did what she was born to do and we didn’t need her anymore. Now the moon’s gone and there’s no one to guide us in our night, the Colonel was talking to no one. He had begun to drink. We now plunder, we now kill…we are lost, oh Maria, we are lost! Wiping his tears he would take another swing. Mariana would sob quietly as she struggled to take the bottle away from him. There will be a moon again grandpa, I promise you, so please don’t cry. I will bring her back. I will make everything all right. I know Maria, my sweet Maria, I know it! We will get our country back from the butchers! They will pay for what they did to us! To you! Oh Maria, they will pay for my wife, my son..they will pay! Mariana, you are my moon, you are the moon of my world and no darkness can take that away from me! Yes grandpa, I will never leave you. Let’s go home now. It will be all right.

It would take her hours to help him back to their house at the south of the beach and then she would take out his coat, put him in his bed, pull out his shoes, unbutton a couple of buttons of his shirt and cover him with a blanket. She would light the candle, place it away from the half-open window and close the door. Standing by the open window of her room, she would gaze at the sky again, staring at the blackness where there was a moon once. And, in silence, she would cry. She was twelve when one evening she had lighted the candle and put the Colonel to sleep the same way she had always done. The next morning she found the candle spent and the Colonel never to wake up. She never cried again.

*

In the dusty haze of war where souls are lost and devils are made, the sight of a lone pair of fists ravaging through the entire western coastline was recounted ages hence, first as it is, and then as a myth that grew word after word, brick after brick, until it was no longer just an image, a story. It ceased to have a beginning, it ceased to have an end and in darkened valleys under starless skies, when shadows of the night lurked within waters shallow, forests quiet and weakened hearts, it became the moon in their sky. As newer generations walked their streets, they would find statues on every important square of the most beautiful and the most daring General on her exquisite mare, both of them ready to bring hell on..someone, with her piercing eyes gazing at their skies as if to tell them..something. They did not know her. The plaques in front of the statues had long been victims of weather and graffiti. Soon the statues too fell to the vicissitudes of time. As it is with legends that grow too large, they transcend from truth to myth and are slowly banished from the realms of possibility so ages hence they eventually rest within the distrustful memories of the older generations. A soldier was born to serve. A chicken was born to feed others. A candle was made to burn. The wind may sigh to extinguish the candle, to save it from ending itself, the candle too might not want to burn itself out today, but will the vacuum of the world allow that?

Advertisements

A Mask Behind A Mask

I turned around and started walking back. It was over. Bullet by bullet, drop by drop, it was over. In the end, I wouldn’t say I was surprised, or sad. I always knew this was coming. I knew it when I woke up this morning and I knew it when I was woken up, five days back. They didn’t need to convince me. I was ready.

It was five in the morning. The sky was still dark. They were apologetic for waking me up so early. I courteously invited them in and made them feel at home. As they were pulling down the blinds, I made them some coffee. They sat down in the living room. They were three people but there wasn’t any chatter. The air was tense. I put the coffee tray in the middle and sat down in front of them. They seemed edgy, probably unsure of where to start. I could tell. They were looking at each other and then to me, shifting uncomfortably in their seats. I tried to break the silence with some small talk about the weather but there was no response. Nobody was willing to start. There was only one way left. I had made them wait enough. “I’ll do it. You can count on me,” I said, staring straight into their eyes. It was enough to calm every atom of the room. The creases in their forehead relaxed and they touched their coffee for the first time. We then talked lightly about many things, from the weather, the rising prices to football and Che Guevara.

After a few minutes, one of them received a call. He didn’t answer it but looked at the other two, who nodded in response. They all got up at once. One of them stepped forward, put a .40 on the table and swiftly stepped back. One by one, they shook my hands. I walked them out of the door. Within seconds, they had disappeared. As I closed the door, the sun was ready to rise.

I had been feeling weaker every morning since that day. I would wake up sweating with a weird feeling that I was talking in my sleep. The nightmares had started again. It was like I had travelled five years back in time. I had never been able to sleep well since but with help over the years, I had managed to repress my nightmares. But since that morning, it had all come pouring out with added pain. But I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t angry. I was satisfied. I needed this pain, these nightmares. They gave me strength, purpose, direction. They were all I had been left with since that fateful day and they were all I needed now. Without the pain, I was left a hollow numb shell, wearing a mask for the world. Today was the strongest I had felt in years.

I had already canvassed the place three times. There were sensors everywhere. Carrying weapons was futile. I had planted my .40 just as they finished scanning the place yesterday. I made my way in and retrieved it. But carrying it till I was near the stage was the hard part. I had to pass another sensor and from here on out, there were snipers and cameras everywhere. They were here too, those three people. They and ten of their people, camouflaged within the crowd, waiting to step in in case my knees gave way. Their organization was too big, too strong. One way or the other, things were to happen today. It was up to me to do it my way. For those I serve… and for those I loved.

I knocked the patrolling guard unconscious, drugged him, hid him in one of the empty rooms down the hall and took his uniform. He still didn’t have the clearance to where I had to be but it wasn’t too far. I repeated the procedure with two more security officers whose absence wouldn’t be immediately revealing, hiding them in places where no one would go immediately looking and I was set. I only needed a minute.

Almost the entire audience had already gathered and more people were still coming to their allotted seats. I walked along with two of the dignitaries pretending to show them to their seats, once their identities were verified. I knew those names. I was waiting for them. They were seated on the second row. I was finally there. I looked around me. I could finally see it all. It was time.

The president was standing right in front me, waving to the audience. My hand reached for my holster. My commanding officer was standing right beside the president. As was his deputy. I nodded to my commanding officer and he nodded back. This exchange didn’t escape the deputy’s attention as he gave me a look full of horror, betrayal and disgust rolled into one raging stare, took his gun out and aimed at the president. He was the only one of those ten men I didn’t know about. It was their leverage and their trump card. It had to be someone really close. Now that I knew, it was showtime.

One to his chest – a nimble turn behind – one each to the heads of those three men and two more to those suave gentlemen sitting behind them. Six down, four to go. I spent two seconds standing at one spot. The snipers just missed me as I made a run into the mayhem of the crowd. They couldn’t risk shooting at me now. I was safe. But the president wasn’t. The four of them had split up and were moving in on the president. It was then that I saw his face. He was there too, among those four. Five years since I last saw him. Five years since I’ve been expecting, planning, waiting. Finally.

I didn’t need to be in the crowd anymore. It was all or nothing. Two more shots, two more down. He and the other guy were still gaining on the president from either sides. They were well camouflaged. I was in the open and under fire from the snipers again. The snipers, they couldn’t have known about me. Nobody could. That was the only way. I ran to the stage, zig-zagging my way through, aiming at those two. I got the other one as I got one from the snipers on my leg. I had come too far to slow down now. He was within shooting distance. I jumped on to the stage as I got another one on my shoulder. We were face to face. I could see his eyes. He had no idea who I was, what he meant to me. As I raised my gun to rip a hole in his heart, I got another one on my other leg. It didn’t matter. I pulled the trigger, he fell.

I turned around and started walking back. Hellfire blazed through the sky, from all corners, upon me. It was over. Bullet by bullet, drop by drop, it was over. In the end, I wouldn’t say I was surprised, or sad. I always knew this was coming. I knew it when I woke up this morning and I knew it when I was woken up, five years back. They didn’t need to convince me. I was ready. It was time to go home.

And Those That Remain

Turkey Welcomes Youv1

There I stood on the dilapidated bridge, leaning against the rails in monotonous slumber, gazing at the old river run along in perennial hurry. It was a slow morning. Nothing seemed to move other than water. Not even time. The weather was drenched in sorrows of its own. The rains wouldn’t stop. It never did. It was raining yesterday as well. I remember it clearly. The cyclone that ravaged our town and left it in ashes. Even though I probably slept last night like I’ll never wake up and I somehow feel a little tired, I do remember everything, every tiny detail. After all, it was just yesterday.

Dear old Martha of the Mary Inn couldn’t survive it, nor could her two little grand-kids. It was terrible. I still remember Martha’s face, half-alive, half-dead from making her way back from beneath the river, even at her age, and stepping out of the water only to find the cold corpses of little Sam and Cindy in front of her, littering the shore. She couldn’t fight anymore. There was no reason to, not anymore. She fell right there.

Brother James had lost his wife Lily to the cyclone earlier that day but he kept on trying his best to save anyone he could. He was wailing inside, I could feel it, but he never showed it. All the folks ever saw was that compassionate smile sewn to his face, a painful mask to hide the untold misery eating his very soul away from within. But there was no time to dwell on that, to dwell on emotions. They didn’t matter. Not right now. People needed to be helped, to be saved. And brother James kept running from one end of the town to another all day long.

There were the couple who lived next door to us, the lovable Smiths. Only last month had they celebrated their 50th marriage anniversary. Both me and my wife Sarah were invited to their little get-together. Robert Smith was usually a stoic man who wouldn’t let anyone have the faintest glimpse of what he felt and Samantha Smith was the exact opposite, always full of words, warmth and kindness. Sarah loved Samantha and I respected Robert. But that night was something else. We got to see a different shade of Robert, a shade neither me nor Sarah had ever seen before. He was open, happy and full of words for his lovely wife. And Samantha was the star that lit up that evening. Their love of half-a-century was still as strong and as magical as ever.

Later that night, Sarah would playfully nag me to give her a similar night 45 years later. “I deserve it Will,” she’d whisper and smile. We were just 5 years married and for us to see love like the Smiths’ had was overwhelming and fulfilling. Now Samantha was sitting just ahead of the corpses of Sam, Cindy and old Martha, beside Robert, clutching his cold, dead hands. Without tears and without words. A broken, hollow shadow of the joyful being she once was. Sarah would’ve broken down to see what I saw. I’m glad she never had to see Samantha like that. Or Robert. Or Cindy. Or Sam. Or any of them.

It was already evening as I stood on the bridge reminiscing about yesterday. The rains still hadn’t stopped. The sky was as dead as ever. I began to walk back the familiar path to home. The old cemetery fell on the left of my path. I made my way in. I walked past the flowers gracing the tombstones of Martha, Sam, Cindy, Robert, Lily, the Bishops, the Winchesters and uncle Henry. And there she was, Sarah, resting peacefully. Away from all the death and grief. Away from the gloom and dark that always disturbed her. I looked nowhere else, moved nowhere else. My eyes fell on the writing in front of me.

Here lies Sarah Wordsworth, a loving wife and a worthy friend.

Indeed she was.

29.10.1999.

The birds were making their way back to their homes. It was almost dark now. I wished Sarah goodbye and traced my way back to the gates and onto the road. A little girl and her father were walking just ahead of me. They looked happy and cheerful.

I’m glad it didn’t rain today, daddy. We wouldn’t have been able to go see the fair today if it rained! I’m so happy! It was amazing!

I’m pleased for you dear. Now keep your eyes on the road and let’s get home before it’s too late. Your mother must be very worried.

But daddy we’ll be here next year as well right? Bonnie and Rose kept saying the 2014 fair would be even better. All my friends would be here daddy, I want to be here. Please daddy?!

Okay okay, we’ll think about it but hurry along now!

Okay!

They walked ahead of me and melted into the ubiquitous darkness. I just stood there, frozen. The feet wouldn’t move forward. I walked back to Sarah. I walked a step forward and stood in front of the grave beside hers that, somehow, I hadn’t noticed before. My knees gave way.

Here lies William Wordsworth, loving husband, loyal friend and a valiant warrior. Sacrificed himself to save his fellow men.

29.10.1999.

I smiled as I lay down on the ground, looking up at the starry skies. Taking a gulp of the fresh evening air in, I closed my eyes and opened them again.

I was standing on the old bridge. It seemed a slow morning. I slept well last night but I was still oddly tired. And it was raining. Just like yesterday..

Part I – Rebirth

Image

The priest was worried. The sun had already set. It was steadily getting darker. The horses were running as fast as they could. The carriage was rushing down the mountain paths with furious speed. It was almost dangerous.

My worst fears will come true! Oh heavens! Protect your children!

The priest was becoming very agitated. His fellow passengers were exchanging worried looks and feeling sorry for him. The carriage had entered the forest, away from the open path. It was pitch dark. From whatever light the coachman could muster from his lantern, he drove on.

But the priest was losing focus. He kept looking at the dark skies and muttering to the wind. The terrains of this land carried unfortunate stories of death and doom from ages old and the priest’s warnings of apocalypse was making his fellow passengers uneasy.

Shut up old man. You are scaring the children. Calm down. It’s all good.

You do not see. My child, you do not see! Oh heavens, why do they not see? Why did it have to be like this? I’m weak and old, I cannot save your children. Oh help me Father! Make them see what I see! This is the end! The Strigoi shall rise tonight!

This dramatic revelation by the priest was met with stunned silence from the crowd. Only the footsteps of the horses and the howling of the wind could be heard as they all looked at each other in alarm. The people of Keatsville had heard many stories about their lands as they grew up. Some were beautiful, some were inspiring, and some were tragic. They loved and cherished every one of those. But there were also the legends that were nowhere near as comforting as these other stories. Legends that nobody dared discuss or make light of. They were spoken in hushed voices, in safer confines and in broad daylight, if at all they needed to be spoken of. So when the priest screamed of Strigoi in the cursed forests engulfed in omnipresent darkness, every soul in the carriage froze. The coachman lost his grip on the horses and the carriage collided with a tree trunk at extreme speed. The lanterns flew into the dark and fell somewhere in the wet ground. Whatever little light they had left, was gone. It was complete and utter darkness now.

The horses were making an almighty racket. The priest was screaming of Armageddon at the top of his voice with everything his lungs could offer. The children were crying. The women and men were terrified of it all. It was a nightmare, or so they thought. Then it happened. The quieter folks could see it clearly. Three pairs of red dots were getting closer and closer from three different directions. As they reached near their carriage, they stopped. They were not just dots. Those were eyes at the height of an average man’s chest. The woods echoed with rhythmic and furious breathing. If those were animals, they had to be gigantic. The air was heavy with fear. The children had stopped crying. The horses had become quiet. The priest, though, was still relentless.

In death and in life, his light shines upon us all! No devil can rise before His holy light! He is our father, his mercy is unbound, he will save our light! He will save our souls tonight and banish this evil fr—-

The priest was gone. So were those eyes. The townsfolk were shaking. They could see the red eyes running away in the distance. One guy had stumbled upon a lantern. He lit it and held it high. The beasts were heading towards the old ruins. Without wasting a second more, they picked their children and began to run the rest of the distance towards Keatsville.

The beasts had taken the priest to the Ruins. Everybody called the place the Ruins. There was a time when it was a part of the town and people used to live there. But then something happened. Nobody knows for sure what but the Keatsville legend has its own version of events. Since then, the place has been abandoned and a dense forest had sprung up separating it from the main town. Nobody ever goes there.

The moon was bright. The beasts were slowing walking past desolate buildings. They were searching for something. They were sniffing and growling. The priest was lying on the biggest of the beasts. He was unconscious, his rosary still hanging from his hand. Slowly, the procession reached the end of the Ruins. They were staring anxiously at the structure in front of them. It was a church. The beasts invited themselves in and made their way towards the altar. There was a passageway on the left leading towards the basement. They growled in joy. They could sense something. They made their way down. There was a coffin. It was covered in numerous layers of dust. It had not been touched in decades, centuries probably. The priest could not see what happened next. One of the three beasts was shaking. Its bones were breaking, one-by-one. It was writhing in agony. Its growls were reverberating throughout the Ruins. And then it stopped. The beast was gone. There was a naked man standing in its place.

He took the priest from the top of the biggest of the beasts and put him beside the coffin. The moonlight was seeping into the room. Slowly, he pushed the coffin open. A strong foul stench made that man recoil violently. He recovered quickly and began slitting the wrist of the priest open. He was collecting his blood. The rosary fell from the priest’s hands and that woke him up. He looked in horror from the unknown man to the two beasts standing beside him near the coffin. No words came out of his mouth. The man laughed an eerie laugh. Soon he was done with the old man and rose to his feet. He poured the blood inside the coffin and turned back into a beast again, right in front of the priest. His painful transformation and his subsequent form were too much for the priest as he began to shout and scream in horror and run wildly towards the door. The beasts growled in amusement, let him escape and then chased him playfully. He ran up the stairs and through the aisle, blood pouring out profusely from his wrists. He was in immense pain. His head was throbbing madly. By this time, the beasts felt hungry. They were done playing. The biggest of the three pounced on him for the final strike. The other two roared in appreciation. The sight inside the church was ungodly. But suddenly the two other beasts became very quiet. The priest was shouting away madly as the largest beast held him in his paws but he too was distracted.  There was a swift movement outside the gates of the church. A second later, both the beasts were nailed to two opposite walls of the aisle in arrows. The largest beast growled in sheer fury. The entire Ruins was trembling with its anger. The beast was mad. He threw the priest to the walls and began searching around for the perpetrator.

His light is bright and beautiful; he shines it on his children in times of joy and sorrow. Lycaon can never stand against His light! Never! Light shall prevail! Forever!

The beast had had enough of his babblings. He growled in fury and opened his mouth wide to dig his teeth deep into his neck. Then it froze. A young man was standing in front of him.

It was me. I killed your two little henchmen. They were rather cute, weren’t they? Hope you didn’t mind much. So, how goes your little night-out?

The beast was trembling with hair-raising anger. It growled an incredible grown and lunged for him with blood lust. It was dead the next second.

Yo, granddad, calm down. Tell me what all has happened so far.

They have the blood! They fed him the blood! I have failed! I have failed Him and his children! Oh Father!

Okay, okay, calm down gramps! Just tell me where they have kept him.

But you cannot see! And how do you know about this? Who are you my son? WHO ARE YOU?

I’m John Keats The 20th. And jeez, you’re making me late! Just tell me where his body is!

But you do not see! You do not see! He is about to rise! Lycaon is about to rise! There is nothing you and your family can do now! I have failed your family as well! I have failed everyone! He’s down there, he’ll be here soon! Oh father, I’ve failed everyone! I don’t deserve your mercy!

Took you long to say that. You speak far too much. And just so you know old man, I can see as well.

The priest became suddenly quiet. There was a rush through the church. The air had become far too thin to breathe. There was a chill sweeping through the place. It made the hair at the end of the skin stand. As John Keats turned around, Lycaon was standing in front of him, holding the priest’s heart in his hand.

Well now, kiddo, so can I.

Shit.

A Different Man

Image

The wind howls in the silence. She’s wailing. She rushes past the barren lands of snow, from one end of the earth to another and returns, again and again, and she wails. She cannot rush through the trees, cannot caress them, take their little leaves with her for a playful ride, not anymore. And she wails. She cannot soar above the salty seas and be wrapped in a cloak of mysterious adventure, she cannot indulge the baby birds as they open their little wings for their first flight, she cannot rush in giddy excitement to send the message of monsoon and relief to the lands grieving in the sun, not anymore. And she wails. Louder and louder. Until her pain is the only voice left in the land. Until her pain becomes the voice of the land. Everything she has ever loved is gone. All that is left is loneliness. Cold and utter loneliness. And she wails.

She was never very strong at heart. She lived as she loved and she loved as she lived. And she has loved for as long as the earth has lived. And now that’s all gone. In a blink. Her heart doesn’t know how to survive, to breathe, to live. She has seen pain, she has lived enough to see real pain, and a lot of it. But this pain is unlike anything she had ever felt, not since the birth of life, not since the birth of man. Her heart grieves. They may not have had the simplicity and honesty of other forms of life but she had always loved the man. There was something good about them, something very simple but still unexplainable, something they never managed to create a word for and it always pulled her towards them. She watched over them, cared for them, loved them. They were her children. And now she had no child left. It was all a blank. Like a mother living in denial for the loss of her child, she runs in hope where there is none. She circles the earth, again and again, searching for that one cry of laughter or pain, for that one cry of hope. But all she finds is icy loneliness. And she wails.

As she wanders, shattered and broken, through the vast seas of silence, she comes across the fallen statue of an old man. Her heart stops. Her voice is gone. She’s numb. When she thought that she never could find a word for the love she had for man, even though they were as much bad as they were good, that it was unexplainable, she was wrong. The answer was staring at her even when it was lying on the ground, lifeless and broken. It was man who brought this end – this nothingness, this loneliness – but even in her abyss of utmost despair, fate keeps reminding her of what she might forget. Man loved to live, whatever be the means but he also loved to fight. He thought he was fighting to live. That it was the only option.

She looks around the place, the bombed buildings, the bloody corpses and the cold loneliness and looks heavenward at the irony. She then looks at this fallen statue, this bespectacled, bald old man, wearing khadi, with a stick in his hand. She doesn’t know what to think, to say, to feel. Man is full of contradictions. Perhaps this is what she loved the most about man. That she could never figure them out. They were an open-book and yet they always have and always will remain a mystery. And this was her favourite child. The one who made her see a side a man she could never have imagined, a side she never thought existed. He was a universe in himself. She walks towards the statue and pushes the snow away from the name at the base.

“Gandhi”- her lips whisper. “If only your brothers could see the way you did, my son…” And she lets out a cry of pain so loud and deep that makes the skies and the lands tremble till it’s the only thing that’s as alive as her. The wind and her pain, together, in an eternity of loneliness, nothingness.