Extra pair of eyes

The yellow bus was on a jet black road separated into left and right by a broken yellow line. At the end of the road a snow capped mountain towered above the horizon. On the left slope was nested a group of small wooden houses.

Below the picture was the name of that hillstation followed by the logo and details of the tour operator. It was a random marketing postcard – the kind that normally ends up in junk.

That postcard was the only pleasant thing pinned on the cubicle wall. The other pictures were gory details of various crime scene investigations – mostly splattered blood and innards which were passable compared to the bulging eyes and gaping mouths of the corpses.

But his gaze was fixed on the beautiful view in the postcard – his vacation plan. It was a tiring day for him. Yet another case was done and dusted. Any moment he would be informed about his promotion to Senior Detective. The vacation was just around the corner.

He was the brightest in the Academy. ‘Aced every test’ was an understatement about him. Six months in the department and he was already making serious contributions for his team – Homicide.

He pinned those crime scene investigation photos as trophies – one for every case solved. It was disgusting, true. But that was not the only thing which repelled the other team members from him. There was this slow-talking bespectacled frail aura around him, which yelled ‘not sociable’. And there was the fact that despite having more years under their belts a rookie scored over them.

He had exceptional ability in piecing together whatever had happened in the scene much before the most hard-boiled investigator in the team did so. He somehow got clear shots from difficult angles. He always saw things hidden from plain sight as if he had xray vision. But what baffled everyone was the way he ,seemingly talking to himself, reconstructed the crime in the most foolproof way.

Like the time when he found out the murder weapon from inside a car from the scene of crime – a junk yard. There were lots of derelict vehicles there awaiting the ‘crushing’ fate, how could he zero in on the correct one? Fingerprints on the weapon helped in nabbing the murderer in only a few days.

Or the time when he found that there was another body in the swamp – that of the victim’s twin sister. A police dog would never have smelled that out due to the stench. Thus the Castle Creek murder case became the infamous Twins Murder case. Their stepfather turned out to be the culprit, eventually.

You cannot blame him for displaying the pictures of those hapless victims or whatever remained of them as trophies. But for his rivals it was a constant reminder of their failure.

They conspired. And they complained, because that was the only thing left to do. They confronted the Chief frequently.

“He does not socialize much. Kind of a loner.”

“That is his character. We should never interfere in a colleague’s personal life. That’s kind of a department rule. ”

“His cubicle wall is adorned with questionable photographs. Cant stomach those.”

“That is normal. You are in the Police. You’ve got to get used to such stuff. But still, you can look away if you want to.”

“He is too young to be given a Senior Rank”

“His work is exceptional. Everyone knows that. And if you are talking about experience, there are quite a lot of experienced heads here. But is there anyone here who can match this guy? Just think about the heights he can climb in his prime. ”

But that was unthinkable.

The complaints never stopped. And they finally got a breakthrough.

“He talks to himself”

“So..?”

“Is that normal?”

“Dont we all do that”

“No this isnt that. This isnt normal. It is as though he has a disorder of sorts”

“Professional jealousy is understandable. Ganging up on a teammate cannot be tol..”

“We have only his best in our minds. After all he is our teammate. We were talking about a psychiatric evaluation.”

“Hmm. But he had one when he joined. What is the point in making another one? ”

“We are not questioning his ability. We want to know that the best detective in Homicide is holding up alright. We have been knocking down a lot of cases recently. Our man came in six months ago and have seen a lot, a lot more than what is pinned on the wall. It might be taking a toll on him. ”

“Thats sounds right. Let’s see what he thinks about. We can’t force him to take an evaluation. Then we better do it for everyone else. ”

It was an outside chance. Maybe he would fail. Maybe he would get expelled for being mentally unfit. Hope was afloat.

——-

He didnt say no to the evaluation.

——-

The psychiatrist was meeting the Chief with his evaluation report.

“How does it look?”

“I would say interesting. ”

“Is that good?”

“Lets say it not as simple as ‘talking to oneself’. Some sort of talking to an imaginary person. A long lost brother in this case”

“So just an imaginary brother? Thats it? This should be alright then?”

“Like I said, it is bit more complicated than that. The imaginary one was borne out of a guilt complex.”

“Guilt? Of what?”

“Of killing. You see, he had a twin brother who was dead on arrival. Apparently our man had choked the other to death while in the womb. He has carried this burden for long while. Coupled with the loneliness – his mother died due to complications of child birth and his father leaving him – he was forced to imagine his brother was still around. It was just a habit to cope with the isolation at first. But gradually the other personality has become a part of his life.”

“You mean to say dual personality disorder?”

“No. He knows the line here. His brother is a different person to him. It never takes him over. It only helps, as our man says”

“Help? How?”

“He has remarkable intuition and reasoning skills. He thinks those abilities are his brother helping him out. He thinks his brother sees through things. He is not talking to his imaginary brother. He is just thinking out aloud. He could make a very good chess player but not without his opponent knowing his next move. ”

“So all in all, not so serious. But cant we cure the talking problem? It might make him more acceptable in his team. He might start discussing his findings with them first than directly reporting to me. ”

“Hmm. That is reasonable. We can plan hypnosis sessions for him. It might take while though. It is like curing smoking.”

“Good luck then. ”

——-

A few weeks later.

The yellow bus was heading towards the snowcapped mountain on the horizon. The bus was the only vehicle on the road with dotted yellow lines running in the middle.

Sitting in the front row of the sparsely populated tour bus, he could see the wooden houses now, slowly materializing on the left slope of the mountain. He had left his job for good and kept explaining about everything around to his brother who sat next to him, for his brother was now blind due to those hypnosis sessions.

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Infestation

She stopped in front of the door and checked her bag. There was bug spray for the cockroaches, phosphide for the rats and a  baseball bat for the man. 

The man, yes, she thought it was a man. Of late, she was finding dirty boxers in the laundry bag and trims of beard in the wash basin quite regularly – which she had to clean up. Someone was leaving the tap running. Someone was leaving the television on. She had slowly realised that she was not alone in that house. But she was afraid to confront it… him. 

Until that day…

Leaving the bag on the couch she inched towards the bedroom, feeling the cold reassurance of the baseball bat in her hands.

Rock music was playing from the room. Not her taste. It was him, alright.

She went in swinging…

—-

It was a home invasion of a different kind. 

A woman was arrested on charges of breaking in and trying to assault a teenager in his own home. She was carrying a baseball bat and was in possession of hazardous substances. 

Apparently the woman had been living in the same house without the original tenants knowing.

Foreign Exchange

I had the pleasure of hosting a foreign exchange student for the last two weeks. 

He was a weirdo – struggled really hard to adjust to our social life. He spent most of  his time locked up in his room. But he  seemed to enjoy the night life – never seen him snacking really, explains why he is so thin.

Last night I took him to a buffet. But first I had to teach him that a buffet was an ‘Eat All You Can’ place. It really went well I think – except for his table manners. And his lack of mingling skills. And almost everything.

Today morning he left for his home – Romania. 

Now I am being still being questioned for the missing 40 odd people from that night. At least there were some ‘leftovers’ – blood, bones and some flesh.

Sin Air

‘I am a criminal?’
Tried as he might, he could never say ‘No’ to that. The more he thought of it, the heavier he felt his guilt.

It was all about some money. A Mr Nobody’s money. Money that was born out of some accountant’s mistake. He was that accountant. And it was a deliberate mistake.
‘The money was there for the taking. And nobody’s ever going to know about it. Big deal. ‘, he was arguing within.

‘Everybody does something foul in their lives. This is your first time. Everybody is a sinner. Look around this train, for instance. Your fellow passengers. ‘

‘What do you think that tall guy is up to? Did you see his guitar case? What if it has a gun or a blade? What if he is on contract? How can you explain the scar on his face?’

‘And the fat guy in front of you. Why is he staring at the girl on his side? Isn’t he looking outside the window? No way. Are you nuts? What’s so special out there? He’s in to that girl. Pervert. She must be his daughter’s age. Hmmm. Its her stop. Hey fatso, where are you going? Why are you following her?’

‘Look at the couple at the corner seat. Ever seen a glum pair of lovers before? What are they doing with the sheet of paper? Arent they plotting something? It is a map, for sure. Hmm. Smells a lot like a bank robbery. See, this is the world. Better change. Keep the money. ‘ And thus he had come to a decision. The train was coming to a stop at the most busiest of all streets. Clubs. Casinos. Its been so long since he had a taste of night-life.

A few minutes after he got down, the lady in the couple punched the air in delight. It was a game of Battleship and she had won six in a row. Her partner looked dejected.

The tall guy got down at the next stop. He was heading for the music shop. The strings had to be replaced. He walked past kids who were roller-blading down the street, stared at them for a moment, rubbed his scar, shook his head and continued walking.

The fatso had spotted his wife when the train was passing by and got down at the next stop itself. They were walking hand, in hand.

And the girl this fat guy was allegedly staring at? Well, she walked in to her home, locked the door behind her and opened the fridge. She was going to be very busy that day. For she had a body to dispose off. Her step father. She looked at his dead pale face and sighed. If only he was nice to her.

Slither


The thing slithered around on the wall keeping its big bloody yellow eyes fixated on me like it was waiting for the right moment to strike. Those dirty but sharp claws made audible scratches on the wall as it moved. The tail moved menacingly as if it had a mind of its own.

There was a knock on the door.
‘Who is it?’
‘It is me’ It was Timmy. He was a good lad.
‘What is it, Timmy?’
‘I am going to the store. Do you want a magazine or something?’
‘No I am fine, Tim. But if you insist get me a pack of Kents’
‘Cigarettes? You are not supposed to smoke.’
‘I know. Just joking. You go ahead.’
There was a chuckle from the other side of the door and I heard Timmy walking away.

Where was I? Yes the thing. The one which has been around me, terrifying me since my childhood. The large ugly scaly reptilian which was now crawling up and down the wall, eyeing me. I felt like my end was near this time.

It was not this huge when I first saw it. That day we were playing hide and seek – me and my friends. There was a pond near the edge of the ground where we were playing. It was surrounded by an old brick wall – actually half-a-wall due to its wear and tear. The wall was overgrown by creepers. I selected that spot to hide, thinking that it  would be the last place someone would look for me.

The place was not cosy. The creepers had thorns and they were brushing against my naked knees. I was wearing shorts that day. To make myself more comfortable there, I decided to uproot the plants. And with some effort I did. That was when I first met him. He was the size of my palm. Small and scaly, he was running around on the wall as if scared off me. But eventually settled down looking at me with those tiny yellow  eyes. I was not really fond of lizards. But this guy with his puppy-dog nature amused me.

The first thing I did was to call my friends. I thought they would find it interesting. But they didn’t see it. They said there was nothing on the wall. But the reptile was standing there looking from one face to another like a puppy would. I thought they were pulling my leg. But no, they were serious. So I decided to step in. I had read about some lizards which use camouflage to blend-in to their surroundings – maybe this was doing something like that.At first I tried to point it out to them using a stick as I hated to touch the crawly. And then I used my palms to circle around the creature and show them where it was. That was when I realised that I could not touch the creature – all I could touch was the wall. It was like in a television. You could see the lizard crawling on the wall but it was just a moving picture. My friends thought it was another one of my practical jokes.

I told this to everyone I met – about the village pond wall and the moving picture. They did what my friends did – laughed it off.

I visited the pond the next day as well. The lizard was there. It seemed elated seeing me. It was not just a moving picture, it had life. It was recognising me. Maybe I was its only friend. I was the only one who could see it.

It seemed hungry as it jumped at a fly which sat on the wall. But the lizard stopped in midjump as if it hit a glass wall and fell. It shook its head and jumped again at the fly with the same result.  All this while, the ‘real world’ fly sat on this side of the wall oblivious to those unsuccessful strikes. Even a fly couldn’t see my poor little friend. It was just a picture trying to get into the real world. I began to feel sorry for it. In grief I struck the fly and had it splattered over the wall.

Then something interesting happened. The lizard climbed up his side of the wall and in one swift motion he wiped out the remains of the dead fly. Then he licked his lips and looked at me in gratitude. I had discovered the way to feed my friend.

I had started visiting him frequently, spending less time with my friends. Flies were in abundance around the creeper vines. All I had to do was splat them against the wall so that the lizard could down them easily.  My new friend had quite an appetite. And he was growing really fast. The palm-sized one had grown to the size of my arm within the first week.

With the steady supply of food, I saw his timid nature changing gradually. I saw him getting angry when I got tired of feeding him. He was not the cute guy anymore then. It was one of those days that I saw his new set of fangs. I thanked God that he was just a moving picture.

He had grown too big for the wall. He could barely walk around. But there was nothing I could do to get him to some place bigger. He was getting angrier too. The fly supply had almost diminished. So I tried other alternatives. I brought him any dead insect I could find and he greedily gobbled up their innards from the wall.

My hobby of collecting dead insects and staying aloof from my friends had started raising eyebrows. Teachers had started complaining about my falling grades. My parents even took me to a child  psychiatrist. And as a result of all  this I was forbidden from visiting the wall again.

I thought I would never see my friend again. I was wrong.

…………………

The bathroom wall had enough room for him. It was the wall facing the closet, which meant that I could watch him while I did my business.

Imagine my joy and surprise when two days after the ‘curfew’, I saw him on the bathroom wall. Somehow he had found a way into my world again.

I had decided to be careful about gathering food for him. No one had to find out that I was collecting dead insects again. It wasn’t easy though. My home was almost clean, so the chances of finding a creepy-crawly was very less. But I always ensured that he got fed well. There were concerns in the house about the time I spent in the bathroom, though.

…………………

The routine continued for years. He was still growing but the rate had slowed down. Maybe he was reaching adulthood like me. I had joined college and was instantly branded as the nerdy kind. Like a nerd, I joined the nature club and went on any field trips they had. It was just an excuse to find food for my friend. Each time I returned from the trip I would have polythene bags full of eatables for him.

His menu had extended beyond insects. Once I tried throwing a half-dead rat against the wall. I didn’t bother to stick it to the wall. He,as hungry as he would be, caught the rat right when it hit the wall and ate it in one bite.

…………………

Our neighbours’ dog was a constant annoyance. It used to disturb our sleep with its untimely barking. It regularly stole our newspaper and crapped on our lawn. The owners did not seem to listen to our complaints.

………………

Getting the dead dog to the bathroom was the only hassle in my plan. My lizard friend cleaned him up in a few seconds. He wasn’t hungry anymore that day……

I woke up from my memories when I heard the distinctive sound of the key turning in the lock. Must be that attendant again. The big iron door opened.

Yes, it was him. A grim man. Does it cost that much to smile these days? You should be nice to the inmates, my friend.

He was pushing a wheelchair. It was for me.

…………………

The doctor’s room was big and spacious. The walls were ominously white, it could blind you with the perfect light. The attendant stood behind my wheelchair. The doctor sat across the table smiling at me.

‘So, how are we doing?’ he asked.

‘We shouldn’t have given him chalk, doctor. He is drawing all sorts of crap on the cell walls.’ It was the attendant who answered.

‘Hmm. I know. Let him do what he does. See, he is fried. He cant walk or talk. I am just trying to figure out what he thinks. Maybe the pictures are the only way. ‘

These guys think that I am just another cuckoo. Let them. I have never spoken to them or showed them that I can walk around, ever since they did something to my head. They say it’s part of the treatment.

I stared blankly at the ceiling. I saw my friend up there, staring at me. He had followed me into the doctor’s room, like a pet dog. The whole ceiling looked plastered in scales.

‘Again, what is he in for again, doctor?’

‘His is a strange case. Suspected for two murders. One was his neighbour and the other one his housemaid. The bodies were found dumped in a nearby pond. They found decaying bodies of some animals too. He had these delusions of some kind of imaginary reptile friend. He says he was trying to feed it. ‘ said the doctor as he took from the desk from underneath a polished stone paper weight, what appeared to be some sheets of cardboard.

The attendant snorted. ‘I will leave you with Mr. Lizardman, doctor. Ring me if you need anything.’ He turned and left, leaving us alone.

My friend had crawled down the ceiling and come to rest on the wall  behind the doctor. His scaly tail was still twitching – he did that when he was hungry.

The doctor stood up and walked around the desk towards me.  He arranged the cardboard sheets on my lap one by one so that I could see all of them together – those were photographs of something.

‘You drew these. Looks good to me. Can you tell me what these mean?’

Those pictures looked like chalk marks and made no sense. He said I drew those. I never did such silly doodles.

I stared at the pictures and then at the doctor.

‘Oh. Sorry. I have something for you – to cheer you up. Toffee?’

He turned around to take a box of toffees from his desk. That was my cue.

I had to stretch a bit to grab the stone paperweight from the desk. The lizard stood up and licked his lips in anticipation. He was really hungry. ”

*knock* *knock*

‘Who is that?’ I asked.

‘Dad, it’s Timmy. Sorry to disturb you, but your editor had called. ‘

‘Alright Timmy. I will call him back.’

This was annoying. All you do is promise to write a story for the magazine. They pay no advance and they say ‘no deadlines’, ‘no pressure’. But they call every hour asking ‘how is it going’ and ‘hope you can get it ready for next  issue’ and stuff.

Now all I had to do was to proofread and send it to the editor. But before that I will have to let him know that the work is done.

I opened the door and saw Timmy walking up the stairs to his room, humming something. I dialled the editor.

As I waited for him to pick up, I saw a small lizard darting across the drawing room wall and hoped that was a real world one.

City of Masks

image

Finally after the month-long chaos they had created in the City, it was time to meet up.

All this time, anonymity was maintained. Nobody knew who or what or why, but everyone did their part for the lucrative sums they were promised and paid. Everyone knew they were part of a team, but they did not know their teammates. Everyone knew there was one Leader, one Brain, one Authority they ultimately answered to, but they didn’t know who he or she was. Everyone wore masks as they were asked to, but they didn’t ask why.

 

And all these days the City was being torn apart. Bombing, arson, sabotage, riots, people in masks were running the City. Total anarchy. Police and the military stood watching as the masks ravaged the City from within. Nobody were caught and even if they were, they were either saved or killed off by the masks themselves.
 

They were informed and convinced that it was for the good. To purge the City off the unwanted. To burn everything to ashes, for the City to re-emerge from them like Phoenix.

Like it was predicted, the change was imminent. It was time to meet up. They were informed that this was the meeting to celebrate the success, to get to know each other and to know who were really under the masks.

———–

It was a room full of masked people. It used to be a conference room of a big corporation during those peaceful times.

One by one, the masks were taken off. There were cries of delights and surprises and cheers, as the faces were recognised as the next-door neighbours, teachers, passers-by, waiters, cab-drivers, doctors, cops, passers-by and even the Mayor. They were just normal people.

All faces were revealed except one. The one man who walked to the middle of the room and climbed on top of the oval conference table. Everyone knew who that was. Yes that should be the leader.

With an elaborate and dramatic gesture of thanks, amidst the deafening claps that  final mask was taken off. Underneath, there was no face. It was hollow.

Guardian

My eyes are burning due to the pepper. My forehead is twinging due to the blow it just received. My vision is blurred and it will take some time to return to normalcy. All this for trying to protect someone from impending harm.

I can hear a pair of footsteps running away. Is it her? Slowly my vision returns, though it still stings in my eyes. Yes it is definitely her. At least, she is safe now.

A few minutes ago I had tried to stop her from walking into danger. The danger in the form of a gang who were waiting for her at the foggy end of the alley. It was just before dawn and the lights were still on – the time when scum rule the streets. From the number of trains of thoughts I could read from this end of the street, there might have been two-three men – all armed and ready for the unfortunate ones who might take that alley at that hour.

When I decided to stand guard at the entrance to the alley, I was not expecting anyone in their right mind to take that path at that ungodly hour. But this frail young lady all by herself was risking it. She was walking straight to the alleyway.  All I had to do was stand in front of her with arms outstretched, waving, gesturing her to go away. All I wanted was to help her. She thought otherwise.

 

In an instant she reached into her purse and sprayed a load of capsiacin on my face. And, maybe with that purse itself, struck my head while I was kneeling down covering my eyes with one arm.

But now I know that she is safe, at least from the ones down the alley. Sure lady, don’t mention it. I could have said to the footsteps running away.

People these days. They, for sure, know the word gratitude.

What about yesterday morning, when I tried to help that old lady downtown. She was carrying a couple of heavy bags of groceries from the supermarket. One of them slipped from her hand while she was struggling to get her car keys out of pocket. Oranges and other fruits and some cans from the overturned bag were rolling down the sidewalk. I caught up and had started picking them up for her.

That was when she kicked me on my back for trying to steal from her. I could read from her mind that she was scared of me. I left that place amidst abuses from the woman and accusing stares from the crowd that had gathered in a short time.

Or what about the other day when I saved that kid from coming under a speeding car in Fourth Street. It happened so fast, the car screeched to a halt just after I had whisked the kid off from the road pulling both of us from harm’s way. I was expecting at least a Thank You but the kid’s father and the cop who stood watching started abusing me, for no reason. Gratitude! Then the car driver joined the mix. Every now and then, one or the other would throw a remark at my colour. I was just trying to save the kid, who was now just standing there, bewildered. What does my colour of skin have to do with what I am? If I had the ability to talk, I would have asked them that.
 
My eyes feel better now, heart doesn’t. My Thanks points are low. I gather myself up and walk home.

——————

When God is angry with an angel, it is banished to the human world. Its wings are burnt away and the angel has to do enough good to grow them back and return to Heaven.

First thing I did after getting back to the apartment was to take off my shirt. With my back to the mirror and my head arching back to study the reflection I find, yes, there seems to be hope after all – tiny  fresh sprouts right where my old wings were burned down to the root.