Wednesday 10 September 2014

Short Story 2014 Longlist, Aniesha Brahma

Something Wicked This Way Comes

“I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.” -
Agatha Christie
“Here, hold the cat,” the officer said, handing a squealing tabby cat to Janvi, “I think whatever he saw must have deeply disturbed him.”
“I don’t know what he could have possibly seen, officer,” Janvi said, cuddling her cat in her arms, “he usually goes for a nightly stroll in the neighborhood. I’m sorry we had to bother you to get him down from the tree.”

Twenty four year old Janvi had been as puzzled as the rest of the neighborhood when she heard yowling noises came from the house next door. Her heart had leapt to her throat when she realized that it was her tabby cat, Mr. Whiskers, who had been responsible for creating the racket. She had tried to get him down by herself. But two swipes of paws had made her back away from her very disturbed cat.

Even now Mr. Whiskers was struggling to break free from his owner’s arms. There was a crash and a loud cry from the house inside.
The officer rushed inside the house. Everyone who was gathered outside broke into conversations among themselves. What could’ve gone wrong in this very sleepy neighborhood of theirs?
The officer who had rescued Janvi’s cat came out, pale faced. “I need everyone’s cooperation please. There has been a murder in this house. I am guessing your cat probably witnessed it,” he nodded at Janvi, “I would like to interview all of you separately to find out more about our victim.”
“Oh no,” whispered Janvi as she realized who had been murdered, “Aditya is dead?”

Aditya had been her neighbor for around six months now. They’d even had conversations over the fence, when she would have to go downstairs to break up a cat fight. He would be there sometimes, his fancy camera in tow, busy trying to photograph something new.
“Don’t you ever get bored of that thing?” she’d asked him once.
“My camera?” he had asked, taken aback, “No way. It is my pet. Just like this cat is yours.”
“This cat’s name is Mr. Whiskers.” Janvi had informed him, with a toss of her head.
He had merely laughed.

“Why would someone want to kill Aditya?” she asked the officer, completely taken aback, “he’s such a harmless little thing - always playing with that camera of his!”
“That’s what we’re trying to understand,” the officer told her, solemnly, “Would you mind stepping inside your house so that we can talk to you?”
“No, of course not,” said Janvi, walking back to her house in a daze.
She had an eerie feeling that she was being watched by someone. But before she could dwell on it, she had reached her apartment. With trembling fingers, she undid the lock and let the officer in.
“So the victim’s name is Aditya did you say?” he asked, taking out his notepad, “Did you know him well?”

“His name was Aditya Ghoshal,” she said, “He was twenty six years old. And he worked in some fancy company. I didn’t know him too well. Sure, we were Facebook friends. But I’d just seen him hanging around the neighborhood with that camera of his.”
“Do you think he could have accidentally photographed something that upset someone?”
“How am I supposed to know that?” Janvi frowned, “I’m his neighbor, not his best friend.”
But even as she said that, she remembered their last conversation from that morning.

“Janvi!” he had said, excitedly, “Listen, I’m so sorry I never got a chance to reply to your message.''

“In a minute,” she called back. Her cat had once again started a fight with the sickly brown feral she used to give food to. She managed to chase the feral away and trap the spitting Mr. Whiskers in her arms, “What is it?”
“I clicked something today and I can tell you, it’s going to make me really rich!” he had grinned from ear to ear.
“Slow down, Sherlock,” she had laughed at his happiness, “Are you sure whatever you’ve clicked is even legal?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you didn’t look through someone’s window and clicked a picture now, did you?”
“Alright, alright…just checking….calm down,” she laughed, “Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me.”
“As is yours,” he’d said in a low tone.

“Ma’am…are you still with us?”asked the officer gently
Janvi started and as if noticing the officer for the first time said, “I think Aditya clicked a picture recently that got him in trouble. I just remembered having the weirdest conversation with him.”
“What exactly did he say?”
“That he clicked a photograph that would make him very rich,” she said, shrugging, “I didn’t know it would get him killed.”
“Well, if you remember anything at all, don’t hesitate to contact us,” the officer said. He bid her goodnight and left her to her very confused and muddled thoughts.

“Your secret is safe with me.”
“As is yours,”
She tossed and turned in bed. But the words refused to leave her in peace. What had Aditya possibly known about her? She had never had a secret in her life. Was it her secret which would have made him rich overnight?
Mr. Whiskers was being positively paranoid that night. He wouldn’t come near her, even when she offered him his favorite cat treats. She remembered someone telling her that animals could sense the unseen. Was Mr. Whiskers’ picking up on some strange Aditya vibe from the other world?
Janvi was beginning to freak herself out. She needed to find out for herself what was going on in Aditya’s life. But the thought of going into the house where Aditya had been killed was too much for her to bear.
“Maybe I should just take a sleeping pill to sleep tonight,” said Janvi, resigning to her fate. “I’ll deal with this in the morning.”

“You know you killed me, Janvi.” A bodiless voice echoed.
“Killed you? I don’t even like you. Why would I kill you?” she protested.
“Admit to the crime,” the voice, insisted, “And everything will go back to normal.”
She sat bolt up in bed, screaming. Only she wasn’t in bed anymore. She was in Aditya’s front yard. The place where she’d been last night – when the terrible news of his death had come! She couldn’t remember how she’d got there.

“What is going on?” she asked herself, “Mr. Whiskers?”
Her cat was perched atop the tree she’d rescued him from just yesterday. He was hissing angrily at her.
“Mr. Whiskers…” she said, softly, “I killed Aditya? Why would I do that? And why would I not remember killing him?”
She walked back dejectedly to her apartment. She dialed her mother’s number and when the voice on the other end answered, she broke into tears.
“What is happening to me? Why can’t I remember anything, mother? Could I be capable of murder?”
“There, there,” cooed the voice from the other end of the line, “You have done nicely. You did exactly as I had instructed you. Now that the nosey guy is gone from your life, you can concentrate on getting better again, Medha.”
“Medha?” shrieked the girl, “my name is Janvi! Who are you?”
Flashes of her life began to come back to her now. She’d know Aditya for longer than she realized. She hadn’t seen him in her front yard. She had seen him snooping at her windows. But he had promised that he came in peace. They’d even begun to become friends! She recognized him when her cat had run away from home and she had to step out into the world! He had always been curious about her lack of social life.

She remembered talking on the phone. But she recognized neither the girl who was on the phone, nor the person on the other end. What had happened to her? Who was Medha and who was Janvi?
Like a mad woman, she pulled off the books from her book shelf and began to throw them here and there. A small newspaper clipping fell out from one of the old books.

The only daughter of famous actor, Nabeenchandra Mitra, might be highly disturbed and dangerous. We had never seen much of the girl before her twentieth birthday – but if rumors are to be believed, Medha tried to attack one of her party guests with a butter knife.

The two had been cordial throughout the party, but things went sour when Medha and her guest went to get drinks.
“It was like she wasn’t even there anymore!” said the guest who wishes to remain unnamed, “Someone else had possessed her. And that someone else meant business.”
Janvi tore up the newspaper clipping. Why would anyone keep such hurtful articles in her apartment? She was tired, head was spinning and she needed to sleep.
She fished out the bottle of sleeping pills from the pile she had made. She popped in two pills with water. But sleep didn’t come to her. She popped in another. And another…
In the end it was the terrified meowing of her cat that brought to the attention of her otherwise ignorant neighbors that the mysterious girl who lived next door had died from an overdose of sleeping pills.
The gossipy old women decided the twin deaths must have been a lover’s quarrel. The ones with a bit more brain decided it was best left to the police’s discretion.
And the officer who had interviewed Janvi? Well, he dialed the special number saved in his other mobile phone and said just two words, “Mission accomplished.”

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