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Puppet Strings

by:Janani

Content Warning: Attempted Suicide, Domestic abuse, Gore, Death of a child

Part 1:

It was a rather gloomy day. 

The sun was out, but almost entirely hidden within a nest of stormy grey clouds that was slowly spreading through the expanse of the dull sky. 

Only the faintest dredges of light peeked out, colored with an expected tint of bleakness. It wasn’t dark enough to be mistaken for nighttime, but it certainly couldn’t be perceived as the height of the afternoon, contrary to what the clocks said.

It was more like twilight. An odd time between day and night- where things could sometimes feel surreal. 

Although the sky made it seem as though it would rain at any moment, the staleness of the atmosphere said otherwise. The air was so dry that it felt as though the slightest spark would ignite it. Gusts of hot air swept through, ruffling branches, and displacing hundreds of autumn leaves. 

One such leaf drifted along, descending in a staggered motion, before gently landing on a tangled mess of blonde hair.

A woman walked along the broad path leading to the public park. With one arm, she pushed a stroller, and with the other, fixed her tousled blonde hairdo, carelessly brushing away that single leaf.

To be honest, calling her hair blonde was an exaggeration. Once her hair might have been called golden yellow in its sheen, but now it seems to have lost all its luster, just a few shades away from gray. 

Like her lifeless hair, her countenance was wan and pale. Her cheeks were gaunt- not starved, but certainly unhealthy.  

She had all the makings of a beautiful woman but lacked the expected appearance. 

The frailty of her very being seemed unnatural and all too sudden. It wasn’t a slow withering, but one that had clearly struck fast.

A few other women idled in the park, similarly accompanied by strollers and fussing toddlers, despite it being a dismal day. The needs of the children didn’t make an exception even for bad weather it seemed. The kids ran around the grassy fields, climbed up the slides, or were roughhoused in the sandpits. 

The women had all gathered together on the benches, chatting away, but keeping a watchful eye. 

Until the blonde woman strode in, the park had actually been quite lively. 

But the moment that distinct, washed-out figure walked in, pushing the rusting pink stroller, an atmosphere of gloom settled among them. 

The children continued playing, unperturbed, and so blissfully unaware, but their mothers were almost silent- warily watching the blonde woman.

Aside from the shrieks and laughter of kids, it was too quiet- that was- until the hushed whispers started. 

Looks of pity, glances of contempt, gazes of disgust.

The blonde woman kept walking, as though she could not see nor hear any of it. 

They avoided her, knowing better from past experience- and she- ignored them in turn.

 It was a rule that they implicitly followed.

Stay away from Barbara

All of them adhered to this, without question- until today. 

Linda was the shiny-eyed, nosy brunette that had just moved into lot No.2 in the neighborhood a few days ago. 

She was young, attractive, and nothing but an eyesore to most of the housewives that lived along Piccadilly Street. When she had appeared, there was an almost unsaid agreement to cast her out, before she even had a chance to join.

 It wasn’t Linda’s fault really- she hadn’t done anything drastic or flamboyant to earn this sort of ire from her fellow neighbours. 

Anywhere else, Linda surely would have been well-liked and popular, certain to be invited to all the potlucks and dinner parties. 

But this particular neighbourhood was overly wary and had formed an inner circle that practically no one could breach. Not even starry-eyed Linda.

They had instantly deemed her as “no good”, “untrustworthy”, and “sneaky”.

So Linda had spent a few unfortunately lonely days right after moving into Piccadilly Street. 

As a normally extroverted and social person, she wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be able to tolerate isolation like this.

When she saw the lone blonde woman, pushing her stroller through- she ran to go and greet her, hoping to make at least one friend.

And since she was isolated from the start, she would obviously be unaware of the rule to stay away from Barbara. 

Linda grabbed her son- a pasty 6-year-old boy on the heavier side- and dragged him with her.

She approached the stroller, a bright smile already on her face, but a slight hint of desperation in her eyes.

Her tone was enthusiastic- almost exaggeratedly so, as she loudly announced; “Hi there! I just moved in! I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting y’all yet!”.

She thrust forth her son and moved his limp arm in a waving fashion. 

“This here is Robbie! Say hello!”

Robbie reluctantly mumbled something that could just barely pass as a “Hello”, but it was enough to satisfy Linda.

“And I’m Linda! Now who’s this?”, she chuckled, peering into the stroller, without even waiting for the blonde woman to respond.

In an instant, her face paled. 

 Every drop of blood drained away and left no color in her horrified expression. Her mouth gaped open, moving up and down like a dying fish gasping for air. But there was no sound coming from her, for no words could describe the shock she felt at that moment.

In the stroller, was what seemed to be the figure of a child, at first glance. It was small and dressed in young girl’s clothing. 

The thing inside the stroller had clearly once been a life-like doll. It had porcelain-looking limbs, and glassy eyes- no-eye.

Half of the doll’s face was burnt beyond repair. Part of its head had caved in, and the glass eye melted- the colour within fused to the ruined “skin”, turning it a sickly blue. 

The rest of the melted material dripped down the ruined side of the face, and while cooling down, made gruesome streaks of skin coloured ridges all along the “cheeks” of the doll. The blonde hair on its head was partially burnt, and unbearably filthy, matted with all sorts of dirt and dust.

The limbs were in far better condition but it was still ghastly to look at. There were crude, black stitches running along the entire length of the left arm and legs, and around the circumference of the right. The limbs were all splayed oddly, as though they had been torn apart, and then hastily stitched back together.

Now that Linda had realized that the thing inside was a doll and not a real child, she calmed down considerably.  The lifelike resemblance it had was terrifying, but in the end; it was just a doll.

But there was still a trace of horror in her face, as she wondered why anyone would keep a half-burnt doll in place of a child in the stroller.

Just when it seemed as though her strangled cries of shock and disgust would crawl out of her throat, another woman that had been watching this exchange, yanked her back. She shot a warning look at Linda, and faced Barbara, with a nod.

“It’s nice to see you out, Barbara. I’m sure Annie…”, she hesitates, dropping her eyes to the stroller, before continuing with a forced grin. 

“I’m sure Annie enjoys these walks in the park”

Barbara didn’t react for a moment, as though she was in a daze and hadn’t heard anything. Then she smiled gently in acknowledgment and walked away.

When Barbara was well out of earshot, the other woman gathered around the still stunned Linda. 

“Get a grip”, hissed one woman. “That’s why you don’t poke your nose around here like some snoop.”

She was a tall, rather broad woman, with a face that looked permanently stern. A scowl hung on her thin lips, as she looked disapprovingly at Linda.

“W-What was that?”

An older, gentle-looking lady with greying hair looked at her with pity. She was one of the few wives that opposed the decision to ignore Linda, but unfortunately, she also wasn’t the type to go against the voice of the majority.

“You’ve only just moved here, so you don’t know what happened at No.9 a few months back. “

“No. 9? That big old house at the end of the street?”

Piccadilly Street had 17 houses. The street was shaped like a severely compressed semi-circle. There were 8 houses on the arms of the semi-circle, and one house in the center- Lot No.9.

It was considered quite a well-to-do neighbourhood, with most of its residents belonging to the upper-middle class. The houses were large and luxurious, but the best of them all was No.9. 

“The family that lives there- the Averys….”, the older woman paused, unsure how to continue.

The stern-looking woman finished for her.

“Their only child recently died in an accident.”

Linda gasped, her eyes growing wide. 

“How awful! What kind of accident?”

“We don’t know. They wouldn’t say.”

“But get this- the funeral was closed casket! Whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty-”

“An accident? I say bullshit. We all know it was murder. The kind of business Roger Avery is in- it’s impossible for him not to have any enemies”

“Hush now, Martha-”, scolded the older woman. 

“You know what I’m saying is true. We’ve all seen the kind of unsavoury characters going and coming from that house”, spat Martha. “It was only a matter of time before something happened. I’ve been saying from the start that the Averys were no good, and now, look what happened-

“Enough Martha”, the older woman snapped. 

Martha glared, but she didn’t say anymore. The rest of the wives shuffled uncomfortably, waiting for the older woman to continue.

“Ever since then, Barbara….she’s lost her mind. That doll you saw in the stroller, it belonged to her daughter, you see.”

“Oh!”, blinked Linda. “But then why…..”

“She keeps insisting Annie’s spirit is in the doll, and treats it like her daughter. Mad, I tell you. I’m surprised her husband hasn’t just thrown her into some looney bin yet.”

“I hear Roger actually goes along with her! My husband told me how he treats that doll like Annie, and not just to appease his crazy wife.”

“Now now. We shouldn’t be so harsh on them. The kind of loss they’ve faced….it’s unimaginable.”

The older woman faced Linda, with a solemn expression.

“That’s why it’s best that we just stay away. Whatever happened in that house- it’s none of our business. Understand?”

Linda nodded solemnly, She did understand. 

She was never going to make any friends here, was she?


Part 2:

The day that Annie died, Barbara felt her entire world crumbling down. Her grief was unimaginable, and she cried inconsolably.

Her darling daughter, her only child after 15 years of marriage- dead in her crib. 

At first, they had no clue who had done it and how it happened. Who would want to hurt such a precious young child?

But the most horrifying thing was the state of her corpse when they found her.

Strangled with a thin string that cut through her throat, half decapitating her. 

Later, the investigators found the man that was responsible. A former employee of Roger

bitter about being fired, and decided to take revenge. Not even the death penalty would be enough to appease the anger Barbara felt. But the man was only sentenced to 20 years in jail. He had denied the claims to the very end- despite being the only possible suspect. They even found thousands of dollars of cash and jewelry on him, stolen from Roger’s safe.

 A thief and a murderer.

In the end, he had died in his cell within 2 weeks, stabbed viciously in the neck about a dozen times. Hurting children was considered the lowest crime, even among those in prison. 

Yet she still felt hollow and unappeased when she thought of that horrific day. 

It was the nanny that had discovered her daughter’s body first. She had fainted on the spot.

Not only was the crib drenched with blood, it had also splattered onto the pink wallpaper behind. There were dozens of stuffed toys in the crib that were dyed crimson. Including one large, beautiful doll.

It was a family heirloom that had belonged to Barbara’s grandmother. It was the size of a 4 year old child- almost the same size as Annie- and it resembled her in every way. The doll wasn’t so lifelike at first, but as a birthday gift to Annie, Roger had commissioned a doll-maker to remodel it in their daughter’s likeness. It was originally a puppet, but later they decided to simply tuck away the strings and turn it into a proper doll.

It was her favorite toy, and she carried it everywhere. Sometimes, they would joke that they had two daughters- Annie and her doll.

That doll was covered in Annie’s blood.

Barbara could no longer look at that doll, or enter the nursery, without feeling an incredible sense of loss and depression.

Annie’s room was cleaned, and then preserved perfectly- as though she was still alive, and nothing was wrong.The only difference was that the doll was kept on a shelf, instead of Annie’s crib.

And that was where all of their problems started. Or, their greatest blessing.

Sometimes they weren’t sure which.


Roger blamed her for their daughter’s death.

He didn’t say it, but Barbara could feel it in his gaze, in his every move. 

Why weren’t you watching Annie? How could you let a strange man break into the house? Where were you when our daughter’s neck was being mangled?

Barbara blamed herself too. When their daughter was being murdered, where was she?

Having tea at the neighbour’s house and bragging about a new diamond necklace Roger bought for her.

By the time she got back, her daughter’s body was already cold, and eyes lifeless. 

Never again would she see her smile, hear her call for “Mommy”, or watch her grow older.

She was gone.

There were times when Barbara considered going to the other side with her daughter. It would be a simple task- but when it actually came to it, she found her resolve wavering.

That didn’t stop her from attempting though.

One such time, when she felt especially despaired, she went into that nursery room that she had feared and avoided for weeks. It was the place that her daughter had died. And it would be the place where she died as well. 

Somehow that thought comforted her. It made her feel as though she would be closer to her daughter- at least in death.

A long white cloth was bundled in her trembling arms, and she slowly began to tie it into a noose.

She shook uncontrollably, her expression on the verge of tears- but none fell. 

Perhaps she simply had none left to shed.

Just when she prepared to put her head through that loop- she spotted something on the crib.

The crib that had always been empty after her daughter’s death.

And yet- a dreamlike vision was there. A scene that she had imagined countless times, only to wake up to disappointment and even more sorrow.

It was Annie. 

Sitting in her crib, and staring at her. Looking at the noose in her hands, as though she knew what her mother was about to do.

Barbara dropped the noose, and blinked, wondering if she had already died and reunited with her daughter. Her vision cleared, and she looked once more. 

It wasn’t Annie.

It was the doll. The damn doll that looked so much like her daughter that Barbara couldn’t bear to look at it. The doll that was covered in her daughter’s blood.

The doll…. that she was sure she had kept on the highest shelf of the nursery, as far away from the crib as possible.

And yet it was there, sitting in that crib. 

Barbara began to think of something- so ludicrous, so far-fetched, so foolish that anyone who heard her would deem her insane.

Even the normal Barbara would never even consider such a preposterous possibility.

This wasn’t the normal Barbara though.

This was a woman driven almost half mad from grief. 

And like a dying flower that had gained a few drops of water, the feeling that she once believed died in her heart bloomed once more.

Hope. 

It was a wonderful thing, but it could also be the gateway to insanity

To hope and hope, until you can no longer hear the truth. No longer face the truth- and be wrapped in your own lies. When you can no longer tell what’s real, and what was merely a fantasy. 

The smallest bit of hope had entered her heart, invading her soul, until she was filled with dark delusion.

Barbara walked to the crib, a soft smile forming- not unlike the loving ones she had given her daughter.

She picked up the doll, and cradled it gently.

“Annie…… I knew you wouldn’t leave mommy.”


Part 3:

Roger Avery knew it wasn’t his wife’s fault that their daughter died.

He knew that better than anyone. 

Even after he had a family, he chose to stay in his line of business. 

The man that had killed his daughter held a grudge against him. Roger had ruined his life and family, so he decided to return the same. 

He was the one that had created the monster that would go on to kill his daughter. Made him lose his job, his home, all his money- and eventually his family. 

His daughter was dead because of him. 

But he just couldn’t accept that fact. 

He chose to blame Barbara because he couldn’t handle the guilt- take the culpability of being responsible for such a horrible thing.

It was almost funny. 

He had done innumerous wretched things throughout his life, that he had never felt remorse or guilt for. 

But this? 

This he couldn’t take. 

So like the coward he never thought he was, he turned all the blame onto his wife.

But even doing that had him wallowing in a stinking bog of guilt- that he could never wash away.

He dreaded breakfast with his wife every morning. 

Sitting at that table, where one spot was so painfully empty, with Barbara no longer looking him in the eye.

No longer humming in the kitchen as she cooked, no longer kissing him on the cheek when she served his eggs-fried- just the way he liked it.

But one morning, he heard humming. The radio was on, and he could smell fried eggs.

His heart pounded, and he rushed to the dining room, wondering if this had all been some sick nightmare that he was finally waking from- or a dream that he could live in forever.

Either way, he would be fine. He would be fine, as long as he could go back to those days when everything was perfect.

He opened the door, to see Barbara looking more lively than she had in weeks, and standing at the stove, flipping a large omelette.

She glanced at him entering, and smiled widely- a smile that he had almost forgotten about.

His eyes drifted to the table, where he could see a tuft of blond hair from the side of one of the chairs.

His heart soared, and he rushed inside, to gain a full view of the scene.

Could it be? Could it really be??

In an instant, his hopes came crashing down.

It was a doll. Sitting in the place of their daughter. 

A doll. That had made him believe everything that had happened was nothing more than a horrible nightmare.

A doll. That had a full plate of food in front of it. 

All while his wife was going on as though there was nothing unusual about it.

Something in him snapped, and he roared; ”BARBARA! What the hell do you think you’re playing at??”

He swept the dishes off the table, and tried to hurl a chair at the wall, to somehow unleash the anger he was feeling. 

The fury coursing through him was palpable and his veins throbbed with that rage.

In a matter of a minute he had gone from the height of bliss, back to an abyss of agony.

The dishes clattered on the ground, the porcelain plates shattering while all the food on them was now nothing but waste.

Barbara flinched, blankly looking at the mess her husband had just made for a few seconds. 

The eggs continued frying on the stove, making sizzling noises that were drowned out from the sounds of porcelain shattering.

 Then, a sense of indignation overwhelmed her.

“What am I playing at??? You just broke 10 of my best dishes! What the hell are you so mad about?? Are you drunk??”, she screamed back, matching his volume.

“AM I DRUNK? I SHOULD BE ASKING IF YOU’RE DRUNK! WHY IS THAT THING THERE?”

“WHAT THING??”

“THAT THING!”,  he shouted, aggressively pointing at the doll.

“YOU MEAN YOUR DAUGHTER! ? ANNIE! NOW STOP YELLING IN FRONT OF HER!”

Roger prepared to bellow back, but those words made him pause.

“Annie?? What in the world are you talking about? Annie’s dead!”

Barbara gasped, cupping her mouth in outrage. She took a step back, and almost stumbled as she raised an accusing finger.

“Don’t you dare say something like that! How dare you?”

Roger’s anger slowly morphed into confusion, as his eyes followed the place where Barbara’s finger was pointing.

“She’s right there! She’s right there! She’s sitting right there! Our daughter! Your daughter! How can you say something like that?”

He froze, seeing his wife’s enraged glare, while streams of tears flowed down. She was holding the doll.  Realization began to dawn upon him, and his dread magnified. 

“She’s not dead Roger, she’s right here.”, she weakly cried, clutching the doll closer to her heart, unable to part from it.

Roger defeatedly slumped down onto the chair he had just tried to fling into the wall. His anger had completely vanished, only to be replaced by an even greater despair.

He didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry- so he just did both, and it came out as a deranged sob.

He thought he had already experienced the worst when his daughter died.

Now his wife had gone mad as well.


After that fight, Barbara pointedly ignored him for the next few days. 

That was for the better, because seeing her treat that doll like their daughter sickened him greatly, but there was nothing he felt like he could say.

Maybe it was the guilt speaking- the guilt that whispered in him, that it was his fault his wife had been driven to insanity.

He decided that if keeping that doll around her made his wife happy he’d just let her be. Ignore her, as long as she doesn’t try to involve him in that ridiculous business.

But very quickly, he took back those thoughts.

He had a particularly infuriating day at work. A bottle of alcohol swayed in his trembling arms as he stumbled home. 

His mood was terrible and his anger was on the verge of ignition. 

When he came home- seeing his wife play house with that doll- it was the last straw. 

How dare Barbara look so happy? When he was perpetually upset?

Before, at least they were both miserable but now it was just him. Haunted by his failure while his wife had already moved on.

He couldn’t tolerate it. He hated it. And he was going to change it.

Roger Avery had never been a good person after all. 

Barbara was carefully tucking the doll into a crib, mussing its hair and murmuring soothing words. Her face was serene, and a smile hung on her lips.

The sight was slightly nostalgic but it infuriated him to no end.

He slammed the nursery door with his fist, to let her know he was home. 

She jumped in surprise, hissing for him to keep quiet, and gestured for him to wait outside.

Wait outside? In his own home? 

He barged in and yanked the doll out of its crib. 

“ROGER!” 

She desperately scrabbled for the doll, but he held it out of her reach. In frustration she beat his chest and raked her nails across his face. 

He roared in pain and kicked her to the side.

She went flying and crashed onto the crib, whimpering pain as she huddled into herself.

Now that Barbara was out of his way, he looked at the doll in his hands and muttered unintelligible curses.

“Stupid doll….stupid b*tch…crazy….” 

He grabbed a porcelain coloured limb and pulled. With a horrific tearing noise, one arm came flying off. 

The anguished scream of his wife fell on deaf ears, as only his own vented pleasure coursed through him. 

Like a switch had been flipped, he methodically tore off the other limbs, and then proceeded to throw the doll on the ground and bash it with his foot.

At some point, Barbara had crawled to him and was holding onto his leg, begging him to stop. She tried to shield the doll, but he pushed her away, grabbed the limbless monstrosity and marched out of the room.

His eyes wandered around the house, as he tried to figure out what he should do next, until his gaze landed on the fireplace burning dimly in the living room.

Barbara had run out of the nursery following him, and she also noticed where his line of sight was focused.

Her heart dropped.

“Roger no… Roger- Roger please….it’s Annie! Your daughter- please-“

A low, wretched laugh escaped his lips. 

“Wake up Barbara. Our daughter is dead.“

And with that, he threw the doll in the fireplace.



Part 4:

By the time he sobered up, he found himself in their guest bedroom. Clothes sprawled haphazardly, and a few empty bottles of wine on the side.  A dim light shone through 

A splitting headache assaulted him, as memories of the evening played in his mind. He had the conscience to feel a sense of shame and guilt, but an ego that would prevent him from ever admitting it. 

He stumbled into the living room, unbearably thirsty. 

Barbara was nowhere to be seen- probably holed up in their bedroom, still upset about their spat.

He would make it up to her later anyway. Maybe some new jewelry, or taking her to the countryside for a few days.

As he poured himself a glass of water, he couldn’t help but notice how quiet and dark it was. 

Then he realized it was because the fireplace was out- and with it, that comforting crackling and warm glow missing.

He decided he didn’t feel like sleeping anyway, so he made his way to the dark hearth, and grabbed the lighter sticks.

He leaned in to light the fireplace, but there was a dark figure lying inside it. Startled, he leapt back.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized it was the doll he had torn apart. Covered in soot, and melted into some limbless monstrosity.

He wanted to heave a sigh of relief seeing that it was just a doll, but something about it made him uneasy.

The longer he stared at the melted face- no matter how damaged it was- the more troubled he felt.

It really did resemble Annie. It really really did.

To the extent that he couldn’t bear seeing the doll like that- as though it was actually his daughter.

Suddenly, he started to understand why Barbara went mad.

Without knowing what he was doing, he gingerly extended his hand onto the damaged doll, and picked it up.

He held it close to his heart- like how he had held Annie.

And in that moment- he thought he heard a voice he’d never hear again.

A word he’d never hear again. From someone who he thought was lost forever.

“Papa…….”

That same dark hope had entered his heart, invading his soul.

He cradled the doll close to his heart, and cried; “Annie…. Papa is sorry”


Epilogue

A black and white tape plays on a tiny screen placed on the dashboard of a yellow cadillac. Inside the car, are two men. One of them is smoking a cigar, while the other shuffled nervously in his seat, fiddling with the tapes. 

“Hurry it up will ya?”, called out the gruff looking man. “Pastor Green gave us 2 hours, and here you are, taking all day.”

The anxious young man nodded, fast forwarding the tape, until he stopped abruptly, with a click. He heaves a sigh of relief, leaning into his seat after he checked the date on the corner.

 “June 12th. That’s the day.”

The footage flickers and blurs, before focusing on the scene that it captured. It was in a nursery. Within a crib, was a 3 year old child- dressed in fine clothing, and sporting wonderfully curly hair. 

Next to the child was an assortment of toys- from stuffed bears, to toy locomotives.

However, the one that stood out the most, was a beautiful, life-like doll, made in the image of the child. There were also strings hanging from its back,but safely gathered and tucked into its dress- so as to not get tangled.

“Is that a puppet or a doll?”

“Shut yer mouth. Just watch closely- this is important evidence.”

The child seemed to have noticed the bundle of strings extending from the back of her toy, and curiously tugged at it. In her childish carelessness, a few of the strings snapped, and broke free.

The child continued tugging, but seeing that no more of the strings were coming undone, she lost interest and turned away, opting to play with some other toys.

As the child’s back was turned away from the doll- it moved. It was slight- barely noticeable, but it moved. As though it were just getting used to its own motility, the arms of the doll shook slightly. The unraveled strings on its back slowly raised up and it moved momentarily.

“Did you see that?? It’s- it’s moving-”

“I did. Looks like it’s exactly what Pastor Green suspected.”

Before the young man could say anything more, there was a strangled cry from the screen.

The doll lunged at the child, and wrapped the string around its throat. Within minutes, Annie’s face turned from red, to blue then purple. The string was sharp, and started to cut clean through her throat.

Annie died choking, and drowning in her blood. 

A few seconds later, the doll went back to its original position,as though nothing had happened.

A disheveled man walked in- the one that had been charged for the murder of Annie. He was carrying a bag filled with jewelry, and noticed Annie lying motionless in the crib, covered in blood.

He screamed, and his screaming brought the maid running in. 

The young man paled, seeing that gruesome scene. He started to open the car door, before the gruff man yanked him back by the collar.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Telling that couple inside! Those two- they think that doll’s their daughter! That some man killed their daughter- when it’s that thing inside-”

The young man looked like he was going to be sick. 

“They’re treating that thing that killed their child as their own. It made them think it’s their child-oh god-”, he gagged and heaved, while the other man rolled his eyes, not even bothering to recoil in disgust.

“There’s no way in hell I’m gonna let ya do that.”

The young man looked like he had been slapped across the face.

“Why??? We have to tell them- They can’t go on like this-”

“We don’t hafta do anything. Listen here, and you listen well. The sort of malevolent spirit that’s haunting that doll- it’s not something you wanna to mess with. It’s the clever type you see- and trust me- there’s nothing more terrible to deal with than a spirit that knows exactly how to ruin you.”

“B-but-”

The older man made a shhhh sound, and continued. 

“That thing got an innocent man convicted for murder. That thing convinced Roger and Barbara Avery that it’s their daughter- an’ for whatever reason- it’s perfectly satisfied playing house. It’s contained.”

He looked towards the house, glancing through the window to see Barbara rocking the doll in her arms, and he sighed.

“The Avery’s are happy. If we go and tell them what that thing actually is- it’ll ruin them even more. Everyone wins- if we let this go. The Avery’s think their daughter is with them, the doll won’t be haunting anyone else for a while, and us? We get ta avoid being hunted and tortured by that thing, as long as we simply leave it be.”

“But- it’s still not right.. Our job is to get rid of it… And Pastor Green-”

“You- You got married recently right? I heard yer wife’s expecting.”, the older man asked. The younger man nodded, not sure where he was going with this sudden subject change.

“How would you like it if we try to go an’ exorcise that thing, only for it to fail, and it gets mad? And when it comes for revenge do ya know what it would do?”

He shook his head.

“It would burrow it’s way into yer wife’s womb, kill yer unborn child, and take its place. Is that what you want to happen? To put yer family at risk?”

Seeing how clammy and frightened the young man looked now, the older man let out a sympathetic chuckle.

“I’ve been in this business fer a long time- and there are some times when we just shouldn’t interfere. Ya hear me?”

Finally, the young man nodded in agreement.

“Good. Now, we need to tell Pastor Green that nothing’s amiss okay? That it’s just a regular murder case. You know what to do right?”

Slowly, the younger man raised a trembling hand towards the screen, where the half-decapitated image of Annie’s head lingered, while the doll crawled around the crib, playing with the corpse. 

He paused the footage, and took out the tape, to crush with his bare hands. 

“Atta boy. Now let’s go.”

As they drove away, he chucked the fragments of the tape into a lake they passed up, watching as those pieces sank into the murky depths.

No one would ever know.

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SHER LOCKED

by:Akhil

A man, widely known for his extraordinary prowess in the field of forensic science and logical reasoning, and also known to be quite arrogant and selfless, is none other than one of the greatest detectives in the world. Mr. Sherlock Holmes. It breaks my heart to inform you that he is a fictional character. But as I delved into the world of the detective, I found that he was not actually a character from a book, but present to us in the form of the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who created Mr. Holmes. It is with great ingenuity that this man invented such a masterpiece, and the world will always be grateful to him for this creation.

Mr. Holmes made his first appearance in the novel, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887. He became particularly popular when a series of short stories, including A Scandal in Bohemia, was released in The Strand Magazine in 1891. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle went on to write an entirety of four novels and 56 short stories on Sherlock and his adventures.

Although Sherlock is a man of great mind and skill, his efforts in solving cases would have been shortcoming without the help and support of his close companion, Dr.John H.Watson. Dr.Watson was an assistant surgeon in the British army before he was sent back to England, where he met Sherlock. They had agreed to share lodgings with each other due to financial issues. His intrigue towards the cases that Holmes worked on lead him to many adventures with Holmes and formed a close bond between the two.

It’s not known to many, but Sherlock Holmes was formerly killed off in a battle against his archnemesis, Professor James Moriarty, in “The Final Problem” in 1893. After much protest and pressure from the public, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was forced to resurrect his famous protagonist in another story in 1903. Sherlock Holmes went on to dominate the scene of literature until 1927. From then on, there have been various adaptations of the detective in theatre, television, cinema, books, and even games. The most famous of these was the television series, Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the lead as the detective, and the movie series, Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr. starring as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson.

Sherlock Holmes has continued to captivate readers generation after generation, and I believe that he will not stop doing so. I sign off by quoting Dr.John H.Watson, “My god Holmes!! You never do cease to amaze me!”. If you haven’t read any books on Sherlock, I suggest that you take a crack at one and I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

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Bound By Darkness

by:Joshua

T’was the eve of Halloween, the sky was covered with clouds, blocking out the crescent moon. The trees had shed all their leaves, standing bare against the cold wind. The yellow streetlights had cast their gaze around the silent street, leaving the shadows of the autumn trees to look like hands emerging from the depths of hades, waiting for an opportunity to drag you with them. The clouds began to rumble and the wind wailed like a banshee. At that moment, the sky split as lightning tore across it. Devilish thunder accompanied the lightning just seconds later. 

Damien who was asleep in his bed, jerked awake as the thunder rumbled in the night sky. His heart, pounding so hard he could feel the pulse in his throat. He sat upright in a cold sweat and reached for the bottle on his nightstand. As he quenched his thirst, his phone began vibrating viciously. It was his girlfriend Anna calling him. They had been dating for a while now but had known each other since they were children. As the light from the phone hit his eyes, he squinted. The darkness had not yet left his eyes. He picked up the phone and her soothing voice calmed him down instantaneously. She asked him if he had left home yet. They had planned to roam around together on Halloween eve, as it would be one of the few chances they would get to spend together before they left for college in the summer. He replied with his rough but gentle voice, “Sorry, I fell asleep. I’ll be there to pick you up in 10 minutes”. He told her he loved her and got up to get dressed. 

He placed his feet onto the cold floor and stood up. The wood underneath creaked eerily. The rains had turned the entire house into a creaking wonderland and the sound always made him uncomfortable. Switching on the lamp by the corner, he stood in front of the dusky framed mirror and fixed his dark brown hair. His purple eyes gleamed through the dull light the lamp gave off. He put on a pair of torn jeans and wore the T-shirt that Anna had given him for his birthday. Leaving the room, he pulled his leather jacket off the back of the door and snuck out of the creaking house, and made his way towards Anna’s house. She lived few blocks away, in a small and dingy-looking house. It was just her and her dad. 

Damien walked to her front door and before he could knock, she had opened the door and flung herself into his arms. The cold weather made his warmth more prominent and comfortable. He was happy to see her. He looked into her blue-ish green eyes and saw her soul. Her golden-brown hair fell back as she looked up to see his face, revealing her captivating smile. She was everything he was not. She was clumsy and always had a smile on her face, even through the tough times. Her laugh was beautiful and she danced her worries away, like a graceful swan surrounded by a multitude of lotuses. But alas, this would be the last time he felt her happiness, for the night ahead was not going to be a pleasant one.

They began to walk down the street towards the lake, where they always sat down and stared at the sky while talking about nothing and everything. The cold wind pushed them closer to each other. The wind had an uncomfortable feel to it, like as if it had a presence of its own. The yellow-lit streetlight had begun to flicker and slowly take a reddish hue. The feeling of being watched only grew more intense as time passed. Carved pumpkins, that were placed outside the doors of the many houses on the street began to turn towards our young couple. The carvings on the pumpkins lit up as if they were on fire but they weren’t burning. Damien held Anna’s hand firmly and they started running towards his house. The ominous presence seemed to follow them or rather, it never left them. 

The thing about Damien was that he always felt out of place. Like every other teenager, he felt that there was something fundamentally wrong with him. Every Halloween, he felt like there was something inside him. No, he knew there was something that was trying to come outside and every year, the presence only grew stronger. He would call Anna up and listen to her melodious voice, which calmed him down to a point where his fears could no longer reach him…

As they ran for his house, the blood-red lights went off. The darkness of the night had surrounded them and all the pumpkins were facing them. One by one, all the pumpkins simmered down. Damien knew that this time, nothing was going to stop the presence, it overpowered him…

It took over his will while Anna took few steps back in fear… She could hear whispers around her, like an enchantment, slowly growing louder and louder until it was unbearable. She fell to the ground, holding her hands against her ears to keep them from bursting.

The whispers suddenly stopped, Damien started walking towards her and picked her up, and waited until she could steady herself. The crescent moon began to peek through the clouds, shining onto our couple. Damien moved his hand upwards slowly like he was making for her cheek but at that moment, he stabbed her through the chest, his hand emerging from her back, with her beating heart in his palm. Anna was losing her strength and as the moonlight fell on Damien’s face, she looked into his eyes, but they weren’t purple anymore. It was as if there had never been any eyes in there, empty, hollow… 

Damien pulled his hand out of her writhing body and watched her fall onto the ground. Her heart was still in his palm. Blood spurted out of the slowly beating heart and onto his clothes. The T-shirt she had gifted him, was now covered in her blood. Her now lifeless body started going pale as she bled out all over the moon-lit street. Her golden-brown hair, covered with her blood now had a crimson glow. Even though it was Anna who died, it was Damien who lost his heart… The clouds began to cover the night sky, hiding the crescent witness. The street lights began to glow yellow again. The presence had left him, all alone… Seeing what he had done he broke down into tears and wailed loudly. His pain was immeasurable. At that moment, the sky split as lightning tore across it and Damien woke up in his bed in a cold sweat. He looked at his hands and found no blood. He was relieved that it was all a dream and went back to sleep but… his shadow moved across the wall and onto the ceiling, covering it in its darkness and staring at Damien with a devilish grin…

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MEASURING IN LIGHT

by: Sutanuka

The light at the end of the tunnel didn’t really make sense to me until I was at the end of the tunnel. When you are at the tunnel, it feels like a long stretch of black cloth wrapped around everything you can lay your eyes on. It’s stretchable and it stretches and stretches.

Subconsciously, I had started to count kindness on my fingers. If you were like me, you barely got enough of it to fill in one hand, but I took what I could; I still do. I had learned to lick it in scraps, taking whatever I could and storing it in a jar made of hope and I took a bit more out of it than I should have every time I was told I wasn’t enough. Which was every day.

 The jar didn’t last long enough and there were cracks on the glass. I was not enough. Every fiber of my being was one touch away from being enough but I never could touch it.

 Enough.

Whatever that is.

 I was always short of being the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect person. I was always tugging it with my thread but those always tore in the middle and I was adrift again. In the emptiness of not enough and never enough and less than.  I was drowning in that vacuum. Years from then I still am not enough for anyone, and even when they tell me that I am, I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop – which I know it will – for them to realize that I have pieces missing from when I left them in my previous life. Or maybe the one before that.

But this is not what I am writing this for. I remember when I was fifteen and in a terrible place all around, I asked myself to rebel. One December, I wrote in this ratty tissue paper that I need to dye my hair a bright pink or orange – a color that my elders hated – for me to finally give that fifteen-year-old peace.

Last November, when I dyed my hair a bubbly pink, I did not remember the tissue paper letter, I remembered it long after I dyed it brown again. Ever since I go back to that December a lot. I think if I had to pinpoint a moment I knew about the light at the end of the tunnel, it’d be that. It’d be that moment when I was sitting in that salon chair watching my pink hair dry when I swear I could see the light. I could see it bright and clear as a day.

Days pass and night changes and I found people who love me. I am terrified of being alone, of being loveless, of being lonely. My friends like me and it’s been so long since it happened that I fight a dead mountain trying to believe it. I think about them a lot and I turn up clueless when I think, why do like me?

When you see the light at the end, you also look back and see the long way you’ve come, but then you also see the pile of stuff you missed out on. You see how many people love you so dearly, but you also see the mobilized fear of knowing they might not really love you. It’s a double-edged sword and you never really escape it.

I think about that fifteen-year-old often. I think about how in some parallel dimension or multiverse, she’s stepping into the tunnel for the first time, not knowing she’ll spend years there and in some other dimension, she’s stepping into it again until, in a thousand different universes, she’s stepping into it again and again and again and then some. 

I see the light now and it’s golden, like daylight, I see everything around me and I wonder if it’s here to stay. I hope it is.

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Confidence is key

by: Keerthana

“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”

Self-confidence is unequivocally essential to living a fulfilled life. Self-confidence is about having faith in yourself and your ability to achieve what you envision. Confidence originates from the word ‘Fidere’ in Latin which means “to trust”. So, self-confidence amounts to trusting oneself. It broadly comprises attitude, body language, habitual behaviors, and response.

Is it really that important?
Being confident in yourself makes others have a sense of trust in you. People that often lack this confidence follow or believe the ones that have greater self-belief. More often than not, having low self-confidence is unappealing in a social or work setting. According to a report, 40% of interviewers reject unconfident candidates from the first stage itself. Confidence plays a big role in furthering your career. It helps you to get rid of activities that aren’t needed to achieve the bigger picture. So, effectively it saves time and extra effort.

So, how do you know if you have low self-confidence?
If you often hesitate to pitch in your opinions or ideas in conversation, you might have poor self-confidence. People may quit on their goals before they have even started working on them because they lack the belief that they could accomplish it. It can even come in the form of feeling worthless or thinking poorly of yourself. If you always find yourself agreeing with others when you don’t truly feel that way, it may be a lack of self-confidence.

Then what causes this doubt?
Surprisingly, according to studies, some people are just born like that. They produce less of the ‘Serotonin’ hormone which adversely affects their behavior and personality traits. But, obviously, their confidence too can be improved.
People diagnosed with anxiety or other mental health issues mostly have a poor self-image. Being surrounded by negative friends or family members also affects self-confidence as it can damage the way people see themselves. Sometimes, people set unrealistic goals and they get upset that they haven’t been able to achieve them. This ultimately, makes them feel like they can’t achieve anything right.

What are the traits of a confident person?
They take the necessary risks to achieve their goals.
They are strong-headed and stand by what they believe.
They aren’t afraid to take help when needed.
They don’t give up trying too soon.
They don’t tolerate being disrespected and set standards for how they want to be treated.

Finally, let’s talk about how we can be more confident.
People around you influence your thoughts and feelings about yourself. Ensuring that you’re surrounded by more positive people can help change how you see yourself.
Studies have shown that exercising and meditation improve your confidence. It improves body image and even helps to recognize and accept yourself.
Catching yourself when you’re having negative or deprecating thoughts is important. This is because if you aren’t cautious, the thoughts just keep on accumulating. After catching these thoughts, the best practice would be to replace them with reassuring and positive statements. Over time it would help you to feel more confident.
Accepting failure is important. This would help you to set goals and not be too hard on yourself if you can’t achieve them. You would feel more confident in yourself and your ability by accepting that you might fail but you will come out stronger than before.
Acknowledging your past achievements are equally as important. It will remind you that you have made it quite far and you should keep pushing.
Talking to psychologists or counselors can help you strategize how to develop your confidence. By speaking to them, you would discover any issues that might have been holding you back.

Building self-confidence can be a tough process but not an impossible one. By giving yourself time and energy, you can improve your overall self-image. By understanding the importance and how to build self-confidence, you can improve the quality of your life and those around you.

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Remembered to Forget Tomorrow

by:Siddharth

It was a wonderfully perfect morning. With the sounds of the birds faintly chirping in the distance, the glittering sun rays preparing to spread themselves in various hues of shiny silvers and golds, and the dewdrops over the freshly cut grass in the garden signified the positivity and importance of the day. A boy is sleeping on an extremely comfy bed dreaming about his idea of dreamland when the glittering sun rays peek out of the windows and hits the soft cheeks of the boy. The bright blue eyes open up to the prospect of the perfect morning, one where the sun is as bright as his day and one where the chirping of the birds is as melodious as the tunes in his heart about his day today. Barely able to open his eyes wide the boy wakes up to the sight of the perfect morning according to his imagination. 

He leaps out of bed in excitement and looks forward to the prospect of probably the best day of his life. Just when he is about to go and start his everyday morning routine, he looks at the three suitcases present next to his room’s door and a huge smile shows up on his face. This smile should tell you how happy he is on the prospect of what lies ahead of him today. 

The boy steps out of his room like always and goes on with his morning routine, the same routine he has been following for the past 15 years of his life. It has become second nature to him, but even he knows that this morning is the most special one for him and is cherishing every single moment of this day. He takes a shower and comes out clean and dry, enters his room to wear the special outfit he planned especially for today, grooms himself well and looks at himself in the mirror, and says to himself “You are today’s hero, never forget that !!”. 

You might be wondering why is this boy so happy and proud about today. It’s because the boy is going abroad to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave to do his Undergraduate in MIT Boston, Massachusetts. It was his lifelong dream to go abroad to study, to be around different cultures, and become successful, though he did not evaluate the word ‘successful’. He thought that success is equal to having a degree from a top school abroad, get into a top job and earn loads of money. 

The boy is now ready to leave home to catch his flight to Boston. He is escorted out of the door into his cab by his parents who are sad to see him go but are also happy for him. Because even they know the prosperous future that lay in front of him. As the cab leaves, the parents wave him goodbye. Though in the background, we see the silhouette of a slightly middle-aged man with long hair and a big beard nodding his head and waving his right arm in the air, as a means to say goodbye. This man looks to be having a slight grin on his face and is frustrated with his current life. 

This silhouette was the older self of the boy himself, who was extremely frustrated with life even though he had all the luxuries anyone would ask for. A 4-bedroom duplex in Beverly Hills, 3 ultra-luxurious cars, and a total net worth of about $75 million. 

He achieved all this through sheer determination and hard work, but in the process, he lost out on friends, social gatherings, relationships, family, and so on. Though it did not matter to him during the journey of hustling for this success. Once he achieved whatever he wanted to achieve, he became very lonely because he lost out on all his friends and relationships, so much so that even money and material couldn’t satisfy him. 

The silhouette of the man waving his right arm indicates that the boy had made the right decision, but he lost something truly monumental while chasing after his ambitions and goals. Today was the perfect day but is tomorrow as perfect as today. The boy was truly today’s hero and he never forgot that, but he did forget about his tomorrow. 

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Teachers Day

by:Aanchal

Ohh well, it’s a teacher’s day. When does it fall? I am neither thankful nor unfeeling that a special day
has been dedicated for teachers, to thank them and to honor them for what they do. That too, the
day falls on the birthday of a very special person, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. No, I am not good at
remembering dates and events (and that is clear from the first line itself), it’s just that I loved his name
and went on to remember this.
My faintest memory of a teacher’s day is us going to school only to find our seniors dressed up as
teachers and taking charge of their duties for the day. All the teachers were sent on a trip to someplace, giving them a break from their schedule, a day to enjoy and have fun. Growing up and
changing schools, I witnessed a change. The teachers were no longer sent to trips, rather we wished
them a “Happy Teacher’s Day” in a monotonous sing-song every time the periods changed and a new
teacher entered the class. And yes, I was one of those enthusiastic kids who would make cards for my
favorite ones, expressing how much I loved them and what their presence meant to me. Our
relations with them kept changing, from us talking about fighting with friends or getting a scolding
from mom to us getting periods and assumed mental breakdowns that we thought we experienced,
to talking about what we dreamt of a university and how we would enjoy the freedom we would be
entitled to (although we didn’t get any freedom, thanks to the pandemic). Every phase began with a
new face, a new personality, but all of them were equally understanding and equally supportive. I can
closely relate to the quote, “We are who we are, because of who they are”.
From scolding us for laughing and talking in class because they thought we were wasting time, to
allowing us to cry silently even when sitting on the first bench because they somehow knew that the
tears were uncontrollable and that it was the only way to let things out. From arguing with them for
giving us fewer marks in tests, to thanking them after a meritorious result on the boards, we all grew up
and so grew the respect for a sometimes-motherly-sometimes-fatherly-and-sometimes-friendly figure
called teacher.
Now, now, I don’t have all the sweet memories of school and teachers. We all have faced some form
of punishment, be it not bringing a notebook or cheating on a test, or not doing homework, and I am
no exception. I have had strong, well-conveyed disagreements. But just one teacher not behaving
properly cannot overshadow the love of all the others, the well-deserving-worth-mentioning ones.
And now I have a change of mind, I am so grateful that they have a special day dedicated for them.
And why just a day? Why not a year, an entire lifetime of thanking those who shaped our lives and
thoughts and to whom excellence and brilliance meant much more than an A+ grade.

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The Elastigirl

by:Rithika

This is not about the movie Incredibles. I repeat this is not about the movie Incredibles. 

Now that that’s clear, I wanted to confess something. Not that I am flexible (cough, cough)  

But

I’ve been feeling quite invincible lately. Not the cocky or arrogant type, but the one that’s been motivating me to try out new and different things. Yesterday afternoon, I solved math problems on my own. That’s a pretty big deal to me. After that, I composed a dance routine to one of my current favorite songs. Which led me to buy a very weird-looking bucket hat. How are these two facts connected? I just thought that the dance would look better with the hat. Then, obviously, I kept scrolling and found a pair of jeans appealing. Something else you should know about me is that I find jeans horribly uncomfortable. Maybe because I’ve not felt very positive about my body. But when I looked at those pants, I was like, “Chuck it, I can rock anything I wear.” 

Yeah, and it gets even crazier after this. 

I tried drawing and then painting the “thing” I drew. This was the peak of my invincible feeling because it’s one of the known facts about me that I’m terrible at drawing. I’ve actually been asked what I was attempting to draw when I was “tracing” out a leaf.  

That’s not the point here. 

I was just thinking that maybe the fact that I’ve accepted the fact that I’m awesome however I am drove me to this feeling. Or maybe I’ve actually realized that, indeed, other people do have lives and they’re not thinking about me. Any aspect of me. So, I can just wear, do, eat, and be however I like. 

I don’t know where I’m exactly going with this, but I’ll keep going on because I need the word count.  

Oh, have I not mentioned that I’ve thought of becoming a stand-up comedian because lately, I’ve been watching a lot of stand-up comedies by various people? When I said this out loud and my brother laughed at my face right away, I became sure that I was meant to be a comedian. Then I realized that my extended family or the society wouldn’t be laughing at my jokes, but at ME if I went through with the idea.  

That invincibility chipped a bit. 

And after this thought, I was sure that my brain had bid adieu. I was thinking of becoming a “foot model” who would be showing off exceptionally large-sized footwear with designs that are not available after a particular size, you understand? But then I realized that I’d have to actually take care of my feet. Regularly get pedicures and stuff. And the train of thought went off the rails. 

What I had concluded, and this is a sane decision, is that first of all, stop underrating yourselves. And secondly that, whatever “peculiar” ideas your brain might come up with, just think it through. Because being engineering students, we all know so much about so many other things that seem very tempting than actually ending up as a legit engineer.

That’s all for the “Trash or Ted Talk?” today, guys. 

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The Stoic overflow

by: Prajjwal

Dinner table conversations at home are often unpleasant. It significantly revolves around how incompetent or inexperienced I am compared to other people of my age. I realized I wasn’t worthy enough to be a boy of my age.

Back in school, I was asked to man up whenever I went to seek help during distressing times. I learned that I should pretend to be fine when I am hurt, deep within.

One day I was shamed for not winning at a competition. I had to digest the fact that defeat was never an option in my life.

There are instances when I preferred to remain silent after listening to triggering statements or derogatory opinions. All credits to my conflict phobia.

Finally, I learned to tune myself with the norms and rules of society so that I could fit in and get some kind of validation for my existence, and this was when stoicism entered like a dreaded monster, extending its bloody hands to cover my mouth and cloud my emotions.

According to Greek philosophy, stoicism refers to the teachings or the ethics designed to lead a happy, virtuous, and wise life. It is regarded as a powerful tool for those in pursuit of perseverance, self-discipline, and master, or in simpler terms, it taught people to be free from any kind of passion, and unmoved by grief or joy. History’s great minds believed in stoicism and sought them out. 

Even though the core idea of stoicism is lucid and relevant, the modern version of it seems hyper-polluted. 

Society’s paradigm is quite a complex subject. As you grow up, you are expected to be the ideal man or woman who is capable of handling responsibilities without any flaws and mold into perfect shapes and sizes to please the people around us. And, this is where the misappropriation begins. You tend to suppress your agonies and hardships without any display of emotions, just so that you can avoid getting called ‘the fussy one’ and when you fail or break down, you silence yourself with phrases like Do not give up, Keep calm and move on when in reality, it just starts to snowball and multiply your miseries. 

The societal norms which define the dichotomy between genders have posed an unspeakable threat to the modern world. At places where patriarchy reigns, you can find a crisis of affection, especially in males. They have no female companionships except for the ones at their home, thereby tricking boys to signal their masculinity. They tend to follow the same rituals for generations unless cooped.

I too am emotionally sterile at times. I constantly worry about the visceral way I cringe when I talk on video calls. I waste my time significantly in “What others might think about me?”, unaware that this very notion has the potential to cripple my existence one day. No wonder, Gen-Z has mistaken the word depression for sadness, failing to realize the existence of a thin line between both. There are days when I feel that I missed a great number of opportunities to express myself, cry, voice out my opinions, vent out my feelings. Maybe I was just afraid of grief, which might make me look weak in front of other people.

It is exhausting to keep up to the expectations of people around us, especially at times when you are grappling with your internal self.  It is worthless to bottle up your emotions and choke yourself with unforeseen consequences. We as humans have the power to express our inner self, vent out our opinions. It has a cathartic effect.

Stoicism is brutal. It is capable of taking a toll on one’s mental health. You may opt for silence, but the echoes inside will remain and thrive, to haunt you forever. 

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A piece of peace

by: Netra

Everything around me was dull. The light glowed dim, at least to my eyes. The pale blue bed sheets, glass tubes and bottles, surrounded by freshly painted walls and no windows intensified the silence surrounding me. The air-conditioned room was unbearably cold. I was claustrophobic, but staying in the room was my choice. It wasn’t my fears that worried me at that moment, it was the expressionless man lying on the bed before me, draped in white hospital gowns, and an inhaler tube plastered into his mouth. It was the first time I’d ever seen my restless, talkative and constantly complaining dad lying still and unresponsive on a hospital bed. He was even more afraid of closed spaces than I was. I felt breathless or had headaches, but my father would puke and panic. I watched silently, internally picturing my dad freak,  jumping out of the bed to open windows and doors in his hospital gown. I smiled, tears welling up in my eyes. 

My father was brain dead. The doctors did say there was a 1% chance that he could survive if a miracle occurred. But thinking practically, I knew that was not possible(despite watching a million k-dramas where brain aneurysm patients somehow survived). A ruptured vessel had completely flooded his brain in blood. Nothing could be fixed. I’d already let my imaginations run wild when I’d heard “ blasted blood vessel”. There was no point crying over spilt blood.  

I scanned my father meticulously, memorizing every inch of colour, texture and hair strands on his body. I needed to remember for almost another 70 years( my father would have been proud if I’d memorized so carefully, inorganic chemistry, for my college entrance exams). I placed my palms into my dads. It was cold but not as cold as a dead person’s. If I turned off the AC, would he become warmer, would life magically flow back into him?  Would he wake up?

The nurse had said his sense organs are still functional, so technically he can hear, feel and taste everything but not process it. So, I tried experimenting with his ears first(Yes, I am kind of crazy). My dad had an obsession with radio Indigo 91.9(If you’re a Bangalorean and haven’t vibed to this radio station, shame on you). He would go crazy every time Trevor Daniel’s falling came on the radio. So on a low volume, I played the song and placed the speakers beside his ears. I stared at his eyelids, toes, and fingers expecting at least a slight movement. No Response.

My heart hurt a little. 

Never mind, I told myself, my dad had always been a little deaf. Another ridiculous idea floated into my head.  I wanted to pinch him, if he could wake up, he would wake up then. It felt like committing a crime as I had to avoid the nurse’s eyes. I carefully dug my nails into my dad’s arms and pressed, deeper and deeper, but he didn’t react. I kept pinching, with each pinch, my heart hurt harder. I couldn’t swallow the fact that he wouldn’t wake up. 

 As I was busy secretly pinching my father’s arms, the neurosurgeon appeared.

“Hey, you are the daughter right. Where’s your mom?”

“ She’s waiting outside,” I told him. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, only one person was allowed into the ICU at a time. I felt slightly fortunate, I didn’t have to watch my mom scream and cry in front of me(If there’s one thing that made me cry, it was watching my favourite people cry). But my luck didn’t last long. 

“Oh no, that’s ok,” he looked at the nurse. “Let her in too,” he ordered. 

5 minutes later, my mom appeared. It took 5 minutes because she had to wear the disposable cloak, disposable mask, disposable hat and disposable gloves before entering the ICU. All thanks to the virus crisis. 

My mom, with her red, tear-drenched eyes, walked straight towards my father.

“Wake up, look, your daughters here. Your stupid careless daughter. You don’t want her being careless for the rest of her life. Wake up, watch over her and yell at her till she learns!” (It was just like in the movies).

My heart hurt unbearably now and tears clouded my vision. I silently cried beside my mom, still pinching. I had a long life ahead of me and a lot of new people to meet, but my mom would be so alone. I could tell she was trying to think about anything but the future.  

My mom was being a little scary. The three nights my dad was in the hospital, my mom, who hates being touched, hugged me so tightly while trying to sleep, the fact that there’s a 5% chance that brain aneurysms are genetic seemed to bother her more than it did me, she kept checking on me every 5 minutes. 

Three nights, we let him survive high on medication, so his heart would keep pumping at least until my brother arrived from the US. The last thing any of us wanted was my brother to come home after almost a year to find his dad no more. I wasn’t allowed to tell my brother anything about my dad’s condition either, he was travelling alone, couldn’t risk giving him tragic information. 

At 3 a.m, an hour after my brother visited my dad in the hospital, we were told the medication wasn’t helpful anymore. His pulse dropped rapidly and his heartbeat one last time.

That was the second time in all my life I heard my brother cry. 

“None of you are to blame. He was just unfortunate. He was born with a weak vessel in his brain. Some things can’t be controlled.” The doctor had said. But there must be a reason. Our quest for reason is what makes us human, after all. 

Since there wasn’t any physical sign as the doctor had mentioned, “It is undetectable. It bursts when it bursts”, my mom and I began exploring other kinds of signs. The lockdown was a blessing in disguise so that we could spend more time with him in his last days, maybe we visited our native out of the blue last week because he wanted to meet our relatives one last time, maybe we never celebrated birthdays as the others do because someday someone was going to leave the world on one of our birthdays.

But there was one sign that bothered me the most. It was an incident that happened the day before my dad was taken to the hospital. 

I was filling out details for my college application and I picked up my dad’s phone to get an OTP, that instant his phone shut down and I’d jokingly commented, “ What is this? Get a new phone. This phone looks like it’s going to die any day, just like you.” My dad didn’t like spending on fancy devices. He would spend loads of money on healthy foods and buy himself tons of fancy t-shirts and sports shoes, occasionally get us what we ask for but never upgraded his gadgets unless it falls very behind in technology.

My dad laughed and hit my back,” What did you say? I look like I’m going to die any day huh?”

At that moment it felt like a joke. It was like telling a healthy 6-year-old, he was going to die of a heart attack soon(My dad was nutrition and diet-obsessed and quite healthy for his age).

I replayed this incident in my head countless times and each time felt more bitter than the previous. I knew deep down, this incident had nothing to do with my father’s sudden death but it still bothered me, the absence of signs had made me look at otherwise irrelevant things. My mom didn’t know about this conversation. I wanted to tell her, but I couldn’t. I was too scared. My mom was rational enough to know I was not the one to blame but talking about my dad and death might tear her apart.

It’s been quite a few months, I tried to write it down, tell strangers about it. I couldn’t tell my friends, I was afraid it would make them feel uncomfortable. When I run out of things to do or shows to watch, my thoughts drift to this little piece of peace I will never be able to get back unless I tell my mom. Significant or insignificant, I believed my mom deserved to know. Would telling my mom make me selfish, or would it be the right thing to do?