Friday 15 September 2017

Short Story 2017 Shortlist Preiksha Jain

Game Called Life

“I do not want to go to that mental hospital! You understand that?! I am not going to listen to any of the bullshit! Who the fuck do you think you are? Mom and Dad did not give you any right to put me through the hell! Just fucking leave me and get the fuck away from my room!” Shraddha shouted in anger while trying to get out his brother’s grip. 

“Shraddha, please! For goodness’s sake, I am not sending you to any mental asylum or something! I am your brother and I know I have the right to think for your betterment!” Pulkit cried out in exasperation but letting her go. His eyes could no longer hold any emotion back as few stray tears escaped and rolled down his cheek while his eyes suggested the fear he had been carrying in his heart for years now. 

“Listen, my baby sister, please, try and understand. I am absolutely fine with what you see and feel, beta. I am not saying what you can do is wrong. But beta, you need to have a complete knowledge about it all. You need to understand what goes on with you. Do not get me wrong, please… I respect everything you say, beta, but I cannot let you ignore your occult ability. And Prof. Ram is going to teach you the best about it all. Think of it as your Hogwarts letter! You have always wanted to learn magic, be a witch, go to Hogwarts! Please… consider it once.” Pulkit’s tone soothed her sister’s anxiety and she seemingly relaxed but gave him a hint that he left her alone. He did after she curled up in a ball in her recliner. 

Pulkit got inside his room and buried his head in his hands. He missed his parents. And it was Shraddha who had had a vision about their death due to car crash. Despite that they could not save them. Shraddha hated having visions because all she had seen so far had been either destructive or scary. But it all had proven to be true. She used to fantasise about receiving a letter from Hogwarts school ever since she read the Harry Potter series. Little did she know that she too had been a part of the mystical world barely known to the ordinary human race. She was special but she had self doubts since she had never predicted anything good about something or someone.   

Prachi had been ringing the doorbell of Pulkit’s bungalow for a whole minute now and no-one had bothered to open the gate. She then irritated of such an attitude, took out her own set of keys of the bungalow and invited herself in. Prachi had known the siblings since her childhood and Pulkit and Prachi used to go to the same school, the college and then went to the same post graduation programme. As if the fates needed both of them to stay in each others lives till they died, both began their business in a partnership. They opened a hotel named HOTEL HAVEN IN WOODS 5 years back which soon flourished and boomed into 22 outlets across the country. They worked from Monday to Friday and on weekends, stayed at their hotel in a different city. This way they ensured their hotels were running well and the tourists enjoyed their stay.
“Where the hell have you been?” Prachi fumed in anger at Pulkit who was sulking in his own misery.
“Shraddha. She again had a vision today. I made a mistake of making a proposition to her.” Pulkit laid it all out before his best friend of all times, Prachi. 

“I will talk to her, Pukli. Where is she?” Prachi set her laptop bag on the mahogany counter while stomping out of his room. Pulkit’s bungalow was a beautiful place to live in; ladened with all the necessary luxuries and beautiful paintings hung on every wall; luscious couches and bean bags in almost every corner of the hall; the kitchen was a true paradise of food where you could find every eatable possible. Prachi passed by the kitchen inhaling the delicious smell of Rajma Chawal that made her stomach churn in hunger and growl more than loudly.
“Shraddha? Hey? Come?” Prachi called out while looking around for any sign of Shraddha.
“If you too have come for the same lecture Bhai gave me. Please, Prachi, don’t. I’m seriously tired of it!” Shraddha said calmly, possibly ready to kick both the best friends’ asses.
“You guys are bent upon sending me to that bloody mental asylum! I am not fucking crazy! You get that?! I am not CRAZY!” Shraddha raised her voice to the point anyone could get scared. Prachi stood there with her composure now in its place and her demeanour now ready to retort something very sarcastic. 

“Nobody said you are crazy. And nobody said that you are going to mental asylum. All your brother wants is that you have the complete knowledge of how you can control your visions and how you can actually make something out of it. Shraddha, think for a second. You think only you lost your parents? Have you ever looked at your brother? Have you ever tried to ask him how devastated he feels after all this? And not even once does anyone blame YOU for anything here, Shrads. Try to get in his shoes only once so you realise how important it is for you to learn all about it.” Prachi intoned. Shraddha looked at her with shock evident in her eyes.
The next day, they left for The School Of Special Education. Shraddha had been quiet that morning and even during tee drive. Thinking that being a successful architect at the age of 25, she would have to got to a school where she was going to learn about her own dreams and visions, it maddened her to the point she grew all silent. Prachi glanced at her and smiled at her. Shraddha could not return the smile despite wanting to. She went back to her quiet state after a few moments. Pulkit and Prachi shared a light conversation about their hotel outlet in Chennai on their way to the school. It was Sunday and a 2 hour drive from Pulkit’s bungalow to that school and the weather was pleasant with gentle puff of breeze. 

“Hello, Prof. Ram. I am Pulkit Mehra. I had called you yesterday about my sister. Shraddha it is.” Pulkit addressed an old man with round shaped glasses donned up in a cream silk kurta pyjama and his head covered with hair adorned with shining silvery grey. One look at the man could set your being in a sense of stormy calmness and your mind would begin racing with the thoughts not in the least bit familiar to you. Prachi momentarily lost her sense of speech as various images of her having been happy with a girl flashed across her eyes. Prachi was gay. Everyone had known this fact. But she did not recall having settled with a girl in her life ever since she began living with Pulkit’s family after her own parents’ death. But the images held both women in traditional robes. Prachi’s breathing grew shallower as she held onto Pulkit’s arm for support. Prof. Ram said nothing but looked with no expression in his eyes at Prachi’s varying emotions that were traveling in her eyes. As though he realised that there was someone else other Shraddha in that house who belonged to that school. He immediately averted his gaze from Prachi and shifted it onto Shraddha who was already in a different trance. 

“So, Shraddha, tell me about your weirdest dream.” He urged Shraddha to talk.
“The weirdest… I do not know. I think plotting a murder against someone who is already dead, is the weirdest.” Shraddha spoke up with an air of indifference.
“He is not dead. He is still there, looking for you, ready for you to strike first.” Prof. Ram said in such a quiet manner that Shraddha failed to enunciate her shock. 

Shraddha was no longer somber about staying in a school where people could see things beyond an average person’s imagination. She was actually excited about being in the company of people who were as normal as she was. Someone could create sparks through his hands, someone would teleport, someone had millions scars on her body but she could conceal them in the blink of an eye. People who were beyond the race of normal humans, had made Shraddha believe in her and now she actually looked forward to learn what she could do. So far, all she had learnt was that her dreams were not a creation of his subconscious mind but her unfulfilled purposes from her last birth. She still had not figured whom she was seeing in her visions. The inhabitant of those dreams was an elderly man whom she had never seen in her life before. But she did not feel strange either. It felt as thought s he had known that person all her life but she was not able to put a finger on who that man really was, how she was related to him or why she dreamt of murdering him. 

Prof. Ram had been the only senior most teacher in that school whose assumptions till now had worked to their best and proven to be true. Shraddha’s disposition to understand things more vividly and increased manifolds but she, after every lesson, was left confused and possibly looking for more answers. Her questions were still unanswered and she was striving to know it all. Meanwhile, she had made a friend. If anyone looked at her friend for the first time, he would have seriously been frightened by his looks or fainted because of the eccentricity he carried around him. 

Prachi and Pulkit visited Shraddha this Sunday and they were both relieved and scared for she had found a friend but the friend did not hold the appearance of an average human being. He was something less than a centaur and more than a human. He had this weird mane around his head which people could mistake for his hair but it wasn’t his hair. His bottom had a small bump which Prachi had assumed to be an appendage. His feet did not have 5 phalanges but only two steely looking heavy 2 toes which could pass a horse’s. His hands did have a human like appearance though. Prachi, thankfully, did not faint or get scared of Agastya, but her head began to buzz when he approached them with Shraddha.

Prachi did not understand how she was feeling. But the impact Agastya had on Prachi was not something she was used to or even cognisant of. When he came right in front of her, his pupils dilated with a strange bearing. He regarded Prachi with an expression so indecipherable that even he seemed befuddled upon seeing Prachi before him. Shraddha was looking at both of them and she grew a bit uneasy not out of jealousy or any stupid emotion, rather her mind began playing games before her eyes again as it flashed images which were identical to the scene before her. The only difference being Prachi in ethnic wear and not in jeans and shirt and the person before her was a human and not a creature like Agastya. 

The tension and confusion halted when Pulkit cleared his throat.
“What is wrong? Why is everyone quiet?” He said as his fingers typed something on his phone screen.

Prachi shifted from her right leg to the left one and gazed both Shraddha and Agastya long and hard while Pulkit drifted back into his phone as he got another call. The discernment that Agastya’s stare now allowed to express itself made both Prachi and Shraddha quite apprehensive. 

Agastya took all three of them to a nearby restaurant for food. Pulkit had been busy on phone as the managers of his Hotel in Chandigarh were facing some problems regarding maintenance and food supplies. It was altogether Pulkit’s department and interior decor, lawn maintenance and supplies and marketing were under Prachi. Apart from all this, Finance and money matters were handled by both of them and their most trusted Chartered Accountant, Satish Malhotra. 

Prachi could not concentrate on her food despite she had ordered her favourite dish. Her mind was elsewhere and Shraddha could tell why and where. Agastya was relishing his butter chicken with utmost pleasure as though he had been eating it for the first time. Prachi being vegetarian could never understand why all the three people sitting with her, loved chicken dishes. 

“Prachi, where are you originally from? You do not look like you were born here.” Agastya’s deep voice brought her back into the reality and she jumped slightly in her seat. Shraddha’s gaze fell upon her for answers. She had known Prachi since she was still in her diapers and Prachi was in grade 2 with her brother. All three of them used play together and practically live in the same room. 

“I am basically from Punjab. And yes, I was obviously not born here. I came to Jaipur when I was 4 years old. My parents had come here in 1991. When I was in class 5, they died of a car crash. Since then, my kith and kin are Pulkit, Shraddha and their parents.” Prachi said reminiscing.

“And you never thought of getting married with Pulkit?” Agastya’s tone held genuine surprise but his eyes seemed as though they were known to this fact about Prachi.
“Eww! Haha! No way! I do not like boys, Agastya. I am not straight.” Prachi said laughingly.
Agastya smiled a knowing smile and both the girls could not help but find it mysterious.
After lunch, Prachi pulled Shraddha aside out of Pulkit and Agastya’s hearing range.
“What the hell is going on?” Prachi was utterly confused.

“I don’t know myself, Prachi… I don’t know what just happened there! I do not know what had happened to me when he came near you. I-I began having weird images before my eyes ad my mind went blank and all I could see was your, my and his face. And trust me Prachi, none of it has ever happened before!” Shraddha’s puzzlement made Prachi question a few occurrences which she had ignored calling it destiny but now things were getting a clear picture.
The day her parents had died, something had happened she could have never forgotten not only because of her parents dying right in front of her eyes but also, that day, she had been saved by a strange creature who had dragged her out of the car runes. Prachi recalled having mourned relentlessly over her late parents when she had seen the same creature standing under a tree during her parents’ funeral. She could not make out of the creature was a human being or a horse, but it did have a face, human like features and also, human body. When she first saw Agastya, she was all but reminded of the same creature she had witnessed around 25 years ago. But Prachi being grievous about her parents, she soon shook that person out of her mind. Another piece of puzzle in her mind resurfaced and it was when Prachi was playing basketball with Shraddha in their private court, they both had felt a sudden jerk in their bellies at the same time, with the same force. The next day they found a strange looking puppet on the court’s ground whose hands were folded in tights fists as though ready to punch someone. Prachi remembered that she and Shraddha had thought it wise to trash the scary looking puppet instead of bringing it home to examine it. The day came and went. Amidst all this, Pulkit never got to know about these things. He had only found out about Shraddha’s visions when he had bagged an honorary certificate and a trophy at his college convocation. It was when Shraddha had fainted in her own room because of the intensity of the dream. Prachi and Pulkit had both taken her to the hospital but the doctors had given an assurance of her well-being. Shraddha did feel fine after that which was strange for Prachi. She urged her to talk about what she had seen and Shraddha narrated about having dreamt about Prachi and a centaur bringing back the dead. The dead were Shraddha and Pulkit’s parents who had passed away right after Shraddha’s graduation. She had had a vision about her dead parents talking with her about that one person who was going to come in her life. There were challenges ahead of both Shraddha and Prachi and there was no way with how they were going to tackle them, or at least, face them. 

Agastya was nearing both the girls with Pulkit who seemed a bit de-stressed now. He was laughing at something Agastya was telling him. Agastya did seem anomalous but his behaviour was congenial. Prachi did not get negative vibes from him but he could make her feel mentally bare. As though, Agastya knew all the dark and deep secrets buried within, Prachi could not help but considering him as her confidante. Things she had seen or felt were known only to Shraddha and the centaur who had saved her from dying. She then recalled Shraddha’s weirdest dream, the strangest of all the visions she had ever seen. Pulling her arm, Prachi again excused herself from both the boys.
“Hey, who is this person you dreamt of murdering? Can you recall his face? Can you tell me how he looked like in your dream or may be, draw his sketch?” Prachi contained an urgency in her voice and saw that the colour of Shraddha’s face had gone pale. She took out a pen and a paper and drew the sketch of the man in 15 minutes.   
Prachi could not believe her own eyes when she saw the person’s sketch before her.

Th news of Prachi’s father’s younger brother’s death came 5 years after her own parents’ death. He had tried with all his might to keep her with himself after his brother’s death. His motives became clearer to the then 8 years old Prachi when she caught him naked and touching a little girl who could be roughly 4 years old, very ruthlessly on the places she was taught to covered, her age around 22 years ago. She was appalled  by the sight before her. The girl kept crying and begging for Rajneesh to stop but he did not and slammed her hard on the bed. When she saw the face of the girl, she was horrid. It was Shraddha. Prachi could not resist kicking the door to his room hard with her foot. Sudden noise made her uncle jump off of his bed dropping the little girl fall whose face had gone colourless because of pain and crying. Prachi did not think twice before pulling a bat from her behind with which she was going out to play, and stomped it right on her uncle’s head who both because of the alcohol’e effect and the hard blow on his head fainted right then and there. Prachi and Shraddha ran away from the house and hid themselves in Shraddha’s room. 

Prachi came out of the chained box of thoughts as she saw Shraddha looking at her with a stare filled with fright and rage. 
“Shraddha… Prof. Ram said he is still alive…”
Shraddha was right on the verge of breaking down when Prachi saw Agastya coming their way. Prachi was still not catching what the drift behind his familiarity was but she was more than ever drawn toward her own past whenever she saw him. Prachi decided to talk with him straight away. She did not know what was going on and the only person to answer all her questions was standing right in front of her.
“What is this uncanniness, Agastya? Do you know me?” Was that you the night of my parents’ death?” Prachi was breathless and she was in dire need of all some information about herself.
“No. It was my father.” looking over at Shraddha with a look that suggested pure affection. Prachi noticed it.
“You like her or something?” She asked.

“I love her. She is an amazing person! The most accepting person I have ever met.” the way Agastya said things about her did not seem to Prachi he was IN LOVE with her.
“Oh, I forgot to mention she is a lesbian.” Agastya winked at Prachi. Prachi was stunned. The expression her eyes held was priceless and Agastya laughed heartily.
“Wh-What are you saying? No! It cannot be… I have known her all my life, and-”
“Never once did she tell you she is in love with you? God, Prachi! You claim to be so smart, and not even once did you look into her eyes filled with love for you?! And then you call yourselves best friends!” Agastya was mocking her.

Prachi had completely lost the track of what had been happening and now her mind dissolved into the thoughts of her being with a girl. She thought hard, forced her mind for one, single image. It did. She saw herself with a girl in white kurta and in her arms. As soon as she pulled away from the embrace, Shraddha’s face appeared and as though in shock she opened her eyes. Shraddha came closer to Prachi who was in angst. She shook her shoulders gently asking if she was okay.

“What happened to you? Are you okay? Did you see something?” Shraddha’s concerned voice insisted Prachi to look right into her eyes and…
“Wh-Why are you looking at me like that?” Shraddha whispered with her face dangerously close to Prachi’s.
“Because I had been stupid to have not noticed your love for me, all my life…” Prachi muttered, drowning in brown pools of Shraddha’s eyes whose face was now crimson red just like her lips which had parted on their own accord. This time, Prachi wasted no time in claiming those beautiful lips. Just as both their eyes closed and lips met, the thunder in the sky marked its arrival. Pulkit stood there transfixed with no movement in his body except that his jaw had dropped to the ground. Agastya came beside him to shut his mouth to prevent any fly to enter.
The day could not go any more eventful and Pulkit now began to look his sister and best friend’s way with a slant admiration and appreciation.

The next day, Agastya was concentrating hard on something. He had a paper in his hand that looked like something official and confidential. Prachi went up to him and sat there quietly.
“Oh hey, Ms. Lover girl! How was the night, huh?” He smirked at her knowing that now the girlfriends spent the night together without Pulkit’s knowledge. 

“Never you mind that. Agastya, I and Shrads need to know something. It is about her vision of a man-” Prachi was cut mid-sentence by Agastya.
“Who tried to rape Shraddha. I know. He is alive. Just like my father saved you, he saved that bastard too. He could only make escape people from their possible death but he could never know how bad or good a person was.” Agastya’s attention was solely on Prachi and she was listening to him intently.

“Rajneesh, after being cured, ran away from my father’s cottage and I was 7 years old then. I had a hunch that the man who had left our house was not a nice man. I was young and childish and still a kid, but I was not stupid. He had left his shirt in our cottage. I touched it and a strange sense of nausea had filled me. I was so disgusted by what I had had a vision of. I could not understand what was occurring before my eyes and I fainted. My father brought me into his chamber of medicines. He induced something in me and I had woken up. I kept having a dream of that man with a little girl for years. It all made sense when I first met Shrads in this school. The moment I shook hand with hers, I felt that hidden blow of air on my face again and everything related to it came to me. It was me who understood that she loved you. She confirmed it when I had asked her a couple days later. Prachi, that bastard is still alive. He needs to be killed because he is still out there, keeping an eye on both of you. All the times you both have encountered something dangerous was not inhuman. It was him. All this while. He was the one to fail the brakes of your father’s car that night, he had abducted your new born brother and sold him off to someone and let your parents grieve on their son’s ‘death’ which was not even a truth. He was the one to try and kill Pulkit when he had met with an accident during his college days.  He has been watching you and Shraddha, Prachi. It’s only a matter of time, he will confront you. I know it, I can sense it very well. And trust me, Prachi, this doesn’t feel good.”

Prachi’s mouth went dry. It was way too much of information than she had expected to know. Prachi took all day to sink it in. Shraddha approached her with concern evident in her eyes.
“Prachi? What is wrong? Why do you look like you are going to kill someone?” Shraddha asked.

“Not just me, Shrads, WE are going to kill him. Our culprit. He is alive, Shraddha. Prof. Ram had exhorted that he is waiting for you to strike first. I suppose, the time has come we think about it.” Prachi looked right into her beloved’s eyes.
“How are we going to do it?” Shraddha wasted no time in getting into the serious mode she carried while working on a project.
“The question is what He will do. But we are going to do this before next Sunday.” Prachi said while going through some papers.
“What are these?” Shraddha mumbled grabbing the papers from Prachi’s hands.
Shraddha read it for a whole minute and understanding what it was, she looked at Prachi with blank eyes. Prachi gave her a shy smile and then winked at her.
“We have to get it done before next Sunday.” Shraddha gave Prachi her verdict.
Prachi laughed at her response and wrapped her in her arms. 

The next day, Agastya approached Prachi and Shraddha who were on the brink of making out with each other. Clearing his throat, he smirked at both the girls who broke apart in shock. Prachi lashed out on her while Shraddha mock glare at her best friend to which Agastya responded by flicking on her forehead, earning himself a hard smack on his chest. Prachi’s shocked outburst pacified and Agastya began speaking in a low tone. 

“Rajneesh is here, guys, on the grounds of the school. I can smell his scent. I was getting hints of him being here. But I wanted to confirm it. So I went for a walk last night and saw a man standing outside the hall. He cannot recognise me but I had figured out his familiarity and his reasons became evident.” Agastya stopped for breath while Prachi and Shraddha exchanged a determined glance at each other. Then, as though something clicked Prachi’s mind, she tuned towards Shraddha.

“Shrads, can you recount your dream?” Prachi’s eyes appeared vigilant. 
Shraddha shut her eyes tight as the images of Rajneesh began prevailing in her mind.
“You cannot do anything, you bastard! You escaped death once, but not this time. I have been imagining this day since years and finally you are here. I can’t back out now. And nor can you.” Shraddha’s gaze grew intense with both anger and determination.
“Oh really? YOU will kill me? HAHA! What will you do? Use your pencils or knives? Huh?”
“Let me tell you something, that is exactly what I am going to do.” Shraddha said. Laughing, he threw his head back.

Shraddha, enraged at the cackle of his laughter, lunged forward with her knife and a carpenters square. Rajneesh did not feel anything until his chest began to bleed. His whimpers turned into groggy moans. Before a minute passed, he fell on his knees with his face covered in sweat. Shraddha smirked mirthlessly kneeling right before him.

The next Sunday came faster than they all had expected. Agastya was planning for a departure gift for both Prachi and Shraddha. They were going abroad. Prachi had wanted to keep it a secret but Shraddha had snatched the papers of the details of their sojourn. Agastya had been loyal and faithful to them at the time when Prachi had arranged for the drug PROPOXYPHENE. Rajneesh had contacted Agastya to know both the women’s whereabouts, threatening him to kill his old father. Agastya’s conscience did waver at the mention of his father and he had been ready to give in to Rajneesh’s demands when he learnt that he had already held his father for ransom. The only thing that bastard had demanded in return was Shraddha. Agastya had grown weaker at the knowledge of his fragile father but something in him made his determination to save both the women strong and he contacted Prachi as soon as he ran away from that virulence. Prachi had kept the drug arranged for with the help of her friend who worked in forensic laboratory. The rest was history. Things had transpired the same way Shraddha’s dream replayed. Everything had fallen in its place and Shraddha and Prachi had no danger from anyone now. Pulkit was dating a girl from Bangalore and Agastya had left the school for good. Their lives were fulfilled. Except just one thing. Prachi was all set to find her long lost brother. A new game had begun.

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