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story

Still Waters

By: Janani

A battered jeep drove down a lonely road through a stretch of barren land. It had a sturdy metal ramp fixed haphazardly on the front, attached by a couple of alarmingly thin bolts. Abandoned cars adorned the side of the road, gathering dust, as they were slowly rusting. Weeds had sprung up on the cracked and lifeless soil, and the occasional tumbleweed popped up.

There wasn’t a single living soul in sight.

Emphasis on living.

The black tinted windows of the jeep rolled down, and a teenage boy appeared, moving half his body to the outside of the window. He had stern features, but was overall, rather attractive to look at- if you ignored the grime and soot on his face and clothing. 

Now, on that stern face, was an expression of unhinged glee, as a spiked bat dangled in his outstretched arms. 

“WHACK”

The bat hit its target, and a human-shaped head went flying several meters, while the decapitated body stumbled onto the road, before slowly rising back up. The head had been cleaved rather messily, so the decaying flesh and bones splattered all over the road. A flock of crows circled above, but even they didn’t dare come close to feast on what would normally be a meal for days to come. 

Not when there were still dozens of them mulling about the area.

The teenage boy plopped back into the passenger’s seat, and rolled up the window, looking quite pleased with himself.

“Did you see that, Five? Huh? Did you see how its head went flying?”

The person named “Five”, was another teenage boy, slightly older than the one next to him. Unlike his wild and dangerous looking acquaintance, Five had a very gentle demeanor. His face was just as grimy as the other boy, but somehow, he still appeared pleasing and kind.

Five frowned, and clenched his hands slightly tighter on the steering wheel. His eyebrows furrowed, as he turned to the side, a hint of disapproval in his expression. 

“You shouldn’t do that, Seven. There’s no need to attack them unless our lives are in danger. Besides, that could have very quickly gone wrong, if one of them managed to grab a hold of you, or bite you. “

Even though his words were meant to be scolding, there really wasn’t any harshness put into them. Just like his face, even his chides were gentle.

Seven rolled his eyes, as he wiped the congealed black blood from the surface of his bat, slowly rubbing each spike. 

“I knew you would be like this. You take everything so seriously. You’re so nice, that it’s stupid. Who cares if we attack them? It’s not like they’ll die anyway. What’s the harm in having a little fun?”

Five shook his head in exasperation. 

“It’s disrespectful-”, he said softly, not looking away from the road. 

“Hah! Let’s see if you keep saying that the next time they try to eat you alive, rip you limb from limb, and turn you into one of them- mindless, flesh eating, disgusting rotting creatures.”, spat Seven, clearly annoyed by Five’s disapproval. 

Five didn’t react like he wanted, and a disappointed frown hung on his lips.

“They used to have names. Just like us. They were once human too.”, replied Five, even quieter than before.

 He didn’t say anything more, but it was clear what he meant. 

If one of them turned like that…….

Seven opened his mouth, but promptly closed it, lost for words. He had wanted to say that even if it was Five, he’d still do it- but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to actually utter that. 

The silence went on for several kilometers, before Seven slumped down into his seat, and closed his eyes.

“You’re so annoying,” he muttered, as he drifted off.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Five smile slightly- the sight was somehow unbearably reassuring.

“I know.”


It had been 3 years since the world- with no better term to use- had ended. 

In the beginning, there was order. World governments took charge. They tried to control the spread, look for a cure, and enforce strict regulations. 

But the disease was unstoppable. 

Just one infected individual was enough to devastate whole cities. In a matter of days, all the major cities fell one by one, like a stack of dominoes. It was a chain reaction of chaos and it was impossible to defeat.

You can only win if there is a fair chance to play in the first place.

“Defeating” was no longer the goal, it was just “Surviving” now.  

Seven first met Five a year into “The End of the World.”

Any semblance of order and law had died with the rest of the world. Most areas had become overrun with those things, or were dominated by the worst kinds of people.

Perhaps these people hadn’t originally been so awful, but in a world where you could die a horrible death at any moment- humanity was pointless. It was a lonely existence, but you could only trust yourself. 

 There were a few pockets of stability, scattered here and there- but people like Five and Seven would never be accepted there. 

That didn’t mean Five and Seven were alike though. 

They had just been born with shitty, unfortunate lives, at the bottom of the barrel, and had to scrape through mud for just the tiniest bit of dignity.

Seven strongly believed that there were two types of people that could come out with circumstances like theirs.

One was Seven- where they became the scum of the Earth. He would drive everyone to misery, and cause nothing but trouble. 

He was filled with every sort of sin imaginable, and there was nothing he wouldn’t sink to. Truly depraved, disgusting and utter filth. 

He despised everything and everyone.

Including himself.

And then there were people like Five. Who also had nothing , but instead of resorting to his levels of depravity, they become nothing more than tools for people like Seven to exploit.

Meek, cowardly, pathetic.

Idiots that constantly lost everything, even though they barely had anything in the first place.

Yet somehow, there was a light in their eyes, a naivety, where they believed they still had a fighting chance, even when fate had always spit on them.

It made Seven envious sometimes. He had long forgotten what it meant to hope after all. 

Both of them had met after being captured by a group of traders. 

Trading what exactly?

Humans, of course. In a normal world, it would be called trafficking, but now human lives were simply commodities. They didn’t even have names anymore, just numbers. 

There was no other “good” in higher demand than humans- whether it was for labour, bait, or any other unsavoury purposes. 

Five was pathetic, and the traders liked being extra harsh on him. He always got the most dangerous, disgusting, and difficult tasks.

It was a miracle he had even survived through half of them.

On the other hand, Seven was malicious and vindictive- somehow the traders liked that. 

Scum recognized scum, he supposed.

Which is why he was surprised they didn’t see his betrayal coming.

Everyone died, except for Five, by that same miracle that allowed him to make it thus far. 

At first Seven planned to kill him as well, and finish the deed- but Five begged for his life.

It was so funny. So amusing- seeing that light of hope in his eyes. He wanted to quash it, but in the end he found that he couldn’t. 

That had been 2 years ago. 


When Seven finally woke up, he found that he was no longer in that dusty old jeep. Instead, he was lying on a lumpy cot inside an abandoned warehouse. A ripped jacket that was so filthy, its original color indistinguishable- had been placed on his shoulders. He pulled the jacket closer, and shivered lightly. It was almost dark and they were still in the desert. 

The temperatures would drop drastically, and they needed to gather some material to make a small fire to keep warm.

Seven realized that he had been saying “they” all this time, but Five was nowhere to be found. 

Immediately he stumbled out of the cot, his heart pounding furiously. 

Had he left? Did he finally run away? 

He dashed out the warehouse, a million thoughts running through his head. 

If he’s really gone…. 

What would he do? Bring him back? Threaten him again? 

Although countless ideas came to him, the very thought of simply “letting him be” was never one of them. 

“You dare try to escape after I warned you so many times…”, muttered Seven, furiously looking around the vicinity. 

The sun was low, and the chill was beginning to set in the desert. A gust of sand flew into his face, and he sputtered, trying to expel the abrasive grains that choked him.

 He had no choice but to close his eyes, even though every second he spent not searching made Seven feel as though Five was slipping away from him- like holding water in your palms. 

With much difficulty, he forced his eyes open, ready to trudge into the open desert.

Yet this time, standing right before him, like a mirage, was Five, holding a black bag in his arms. He looked a bit surprised to see Seven standing outside the warehouse, with a dumbfounded expression. 

That gentle grin he had given him when they first met, slowly formed, as though he were amused seeing Seven run around like a headless chicken.

Seven doesn’t say a word, watching him drag his feet through the dunes, walking back towards him. 

“Why didn’t you just stay and rest inside? I told you I was getting dinner.”

Seven can’t even find it in him to be angry at  Five, so he took it out on the sand beneath him, kicking little plumes into the air.

Five started coughing, bothered by the dust, and Seven instantly stopped.

 He settled for just glaring. 

“I was fucking asleep, how was I supposed to know where you went?”

Five started to apologize, but even that was irritating Seven, so he grabbed the black bag from Five.

“Dinner huh? What the heck did you find in the middle of the desert?”

“There’s a small abandoned gas station just over that ridge. I found some canned food-”

“There weren’t any of those things right?”

Five shook his head. 

“No. There weren’t any.”  he muttered, crossing his arms. He looked slightly uncomfortable, and Seven remembered that Five had always been terrified of those creatures.  

A calloused hand reassuringly patted his shoulder. 

“Relax a bit, and let’s see what sort of trash you brought to eat.”


The flames flickered even brighter, and a soft glow settled on Five’s warm features. He silently munched on a few saltines, his eyes drooping, and movement sluggish. 

 Seven was laying on the ground, observing him intently, and wondering how Five looked good even when he was covered in grime. 

Maybe it was his eyes. They were dark, but held an indescribable sparkle. Those eyes shone no matter what kind of filth it had witnessed. 

How handsome. 

Five looked at him startled, almost spitting out the saltine he had been chewing, and Seven realized he had said it out loud. 

Seven had always been shameless, but in that moment, the foreign feeling known as embarrassment washed through him. 

He coughed a few times, trying to create any sort of distraction from what he had just admitted.

“Don’t flatter yourself, I was just…. joking around.”, he mumbled, all too aware how pathetic he sounded. 

Five assessed him for a good few minutes, without saying a word, before nodding. 

“Of course.”, he replied easily, and then resumed nibbling his crackers. 

No one spoke for a while after that, and eventually, Five stopped eating. More than half the can was filled with food, and most of the saltine packet was untouched. 

 He also laid down near the fire, and huddled his jacket around his shoulders, shivering slightly. 

Seven had been pretending to fall asleep all this while, as he was unbearably ashamed. 

Yet also incomparably unsatisfied.

This wasn’t what he wanted at all. 

And then it occurred to him- since when had he ever shied away from expressing what he wanted? 

He had no shame, why must he start now? Why beat around the bush and waste time in a world where every moment could be their last?

He sprung up from the floor, and crawled over to Five, shaking his shoulder. 

“Five! Just now! I wasn’t joking.”

“Hmm?”

“I wasn’t joking.”

Five finally gets up, his eyes still bleary, but he doesn’t say a word. 

Wondering if he perhaps didn’t hear him, Seven blurted out again- “It wasn’t a joke-”

“I heard you.”, cuts in Five. 

Still there is silence, and Seven couldn’t bear it.

But he also didn’t want to stop now. He needed to say something- anything.

And then he knew. 

“Your name. Tell me your name.”

He had once told Five that it was best they never use their real names anymore. Even after they escaped the traders. 

That it was a part of themselves that could stay hidden. In a shitty, terrible world, where you had nothing to call your own- not materialistic goods, nor family or friends- you always had your name.

An identity, to show that you were still human,  that you were still alive, still surviving, despite everything. To show that you had once been more than what you are now. 

They had both agreed to never tell each other their real names- the last untainted part of their identities. 

Seven didn’t trust Five with it, and Five definitely had no reason to tell him either.

But now, Seven was desperate to know. He wasn’t eloquent, he was foul-mouthed and illiterate. He had no other way to express what he wanted to say. 

“…….”

Five looked at him, his eyes terrifyingly bloodshot. The veins on his face throbbed and bulged. 

“Why do you want to know my name?”

“Who cares why, just tell me!”

“….My name is Five.”

“I mean your real one! The one your parents must have given you! The one you used before everything went downhill. The one that… makes you.. you

“…I thought we agreed that we wouldn’t tell each other our real names.”

The longer Five tried to avoid answering, the more frustrated Seven became. 

He couldn’t understand what it was that he actually felt, but all he knew was that he wanted to know Five’s real name. 

It was a part of Five that was missing, and he wanted all of it. 

“Fuck! Why can’t you just tell me when I’m asking you nicely? Do I need to beat it out of you?”

The instant he said it, he regretted it- especially when Five’s face turned even more stony. His eyes were twitching, and jaw constantly clenching. 

“No.”, he spat out, even more resolute.

“Why? Haven’t we been through so much together? You’re telling me that I’m not worthy of hearing your real name?”

Seven’s anger was rising greater and greater by the second, and it took all his willpower to not do anything rash. 

Why was Five being so frustrating? He had always been meek and had no backbone whatsoever. Now suddenly he was being so stubborn?

Or was it that all this time he had just been acting patient with Seven while secretly despising him? And this was simply the final straw?

The thought caused Seven’s chest to feel tight, and throb painfully. Before he could reassure himself that it wasn’t truly the case, the words that exited Five’s mouth next made his heart drop. 

“That’s right. I think you aren’t worthy to hear my name. You’re fucking trash, and you know it-”

“YOU-”, roared Seven, grabbing Five’s collar, to make him shut his mouth, but Five kept on going. 

It was like a dam had broken open, and tons of polluted water and scum flowed out. 

“You think I would consider you a friend? After everything you’ve done to me? You rescued me from the traders, but being with you was no better! You fucking broke my ankle, my ribs, used me as bait- why the fuck would I be kind to you if I didn’t have any other choice? To you, we may have seemed close, but all this time, I was just trying to stay alive, and keep you satisfied. You think I fucking cared about you? You’re nothing but scum in my eyes!”, 

Seven just looked at him blankly, processing everything he had said. His grip on Five’s collar loosened. He couldn’t deny a single thing Five had said. 

At the beginning he was just having fun, but somewhere along the way, he knew that he could no longer bear to be apart from Five.

Bear to be alone again.

“If you were just pretending… all this time… then… why did you stop now?”, he choked out, unable to ask anything else. 

Five sneered at him, beads of sweat rolling down his face. 

“I just finally got sick of it, is all.” , he whispered, groaning lightly.

Something wasn’t right.

Five’s pallor was sickly, and he was shivering violently.  

“Five….. What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. Just fuck off. Leave.”

Seven grabbed him by the shoulder, only to be slammed into the ground.

“Fuck off, don’t come near me, I can’t stand you!”

As he spoke those venomous words, he groaned even more, and whimpered, clutching his arm. 

“Are you hurt? Let me see! Stop struggling!”

Seven rolled up Five’s sleeve, and all the colour drained from his face.

On his forearm, was a large bite mark.

The wound was sickly green, with shades of purple and yellow.  Blood and pus oozed from the deep indentations, and clot protruding veins throbbed around the mark.

Blood pounded through Seven’s head, and a faint buzzing noise enveloped him. He felt lightheaded and terrified like he had never been before. 

“…..You… got bitten. W-When?”

Seven felt dizzy with dread the longer he looked at the wound. 

Five rolled his eyes and snorted.

“When else?”

“….While you were getting food. But you said that there-”

“No creatures around? I lied.”

Seven was quiet for a bit longer, before he spoke, so hushed that Five could barely hear him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

No answer.

“WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?”

“Why would I? To have you decapitate me on the spot?”

Seven flinched back, horrified. 

“No! No! We could have treated it! If we cut off your arm, there was a chance we could stop it from spreading!”

Seven rolled up the sleeve even further, and pulled up half of Five’s shirt, wondering if there was still a chance. 

The sickly green colour and protruding veins covered his entire chest and neck region. The skin was starting to become more translucent, and he could faintly see the outline of his organs. 

“Oh my god.”, he choked, unable to hold back the tears he had been furiously fighting. 

“It’s too late. There’s nothing you can do now.”, murmured Five, too tired to push away Seven. 

Seven knew this too, and he didn’t protest any longer. Silent tears trace down his face, and that horrible sense of sheer powerlessness overcame him.

Clenching the crumpled parts of Five’s shirt, he muttered once again- ”Why didn’t you tell-”

But before he even finished the sentence, he knew why.

If Seven hadn’t decided to ask something so outrageous, to say something so bizarre- he never would have known that Five was bitten. 

Five would have never gotten upset with him, upset enough for Seven to discover the bite. 

He never would have known, and when morning came, only a creature would have been left behind. A creature that would have mauled him the moment it was born, while Seven would be unguarded and asleep.

Five had intended to drag him down into hell with him. 

“…..You really hate me that much?”

Five’s eyes were closed, and his breaths were shaky.

“You already know. Now leave. Fuck off. At least let me die in peace.”

Seven doesn’t move, and he just sat there, staring at Five wheezing for air.

“Are you deaf? I said leave.”

Seven slowly shook his head. His words were careful, and measured, like he feared to hear Five’s reaction. 

“…..It’s not like I have any place else to be.”

“……..Do what you want.”, scoffed Five, his gaze never once leaving Seven.  “Die with me, for all I care. You’re so damn annoying.”

“I know.”, replied Seven, a tiny smile forming on his face.

Five had never cared for Seven’s grins before- they were usually downright menacing. But somehow, he no longer felt the aching loneliness that had been haunting him throughout his life. 

He wondered if meeting Seven had been the greatest misfortune of his life, or his only solace. 


The faint rays of morning sunlight peeked through the shattered glass windows of the warehouse.

It felt like time had frozen in that moment, and everything was still. 

From the winds, to the din of the fauna, and even the mountains of sand.

It was just Five and Seven, alone together in the world. No one, or nothing else existed.

The faint sounds of Five’s rattling breath was the only thing Seven could hear.  

The flushed and sickly face of Five was all Seven could see.

A cold hand wrapped in his, was all that Seven could feel.

Five’s eyes had turned milky, and he barely registered what was in front of him. A high pitched ringing noise flooded his mind, and he couldn’t even hear the world around him.

His extremities had gone numb, and the rot of the disease was spreading, so neither could he feel. 

But he knew Seven was there.

It was like he had been plunged into the ocean, sinking deeper and deeper, knowing he’d never reach the surface again. Even if Seven was up there waiting for him.

 He had wanted nothing more than to leave him in the past, but in his final moments, Five couldn’t think of any other person who he’d want beside him. 

That thought didn’t make him particularly happy or sad.

“Five……”

Seven was saying something, but no matter how hard Five strained his ears, he couldn’t hear. 

“….my name….is….”

Five doesn’t move, or show any hint of recognition. 

Seven’s tone is pitiful, and dripping with sorrow. He repeated his name over and over again, hoping that Five could hear him.

“Can… hear… name….my name….tell you…”

Five finally nodded, as though he had got it. 

In reality, he had no idea what Seven had told him, but he could feel his despair rising. He nodded, trying to reassure him, to show him that he understood.

Even if he didn’t.

A jolt runs through him, and he knows he has hit the ocean floor. 

His last thought was how nice it would be, if there was someone who did know his name. Even if it was Seven. 

Know that he was once human too, and had a life. 

But it died with him, buried inside a shell of what he once was.

There was no turning back, and he felt the last semblance of consciousness he had dissolve like sea foam, turbulently fading into a vast nothingness.

At the end of it all, the waters turn still again.

Categories
chilling Family life people personal story Thoughts thriller Uncategorised

The Hollow’ed Call

by:Siddharth

I was aimlessly walking down a quite pleasant yet quiet road, about a kilometer away from my office to the car park to leave for home. There was almost no noise at all apart from the sound of people whispering onto their mobile phones while on-call or the sound of the odd vehicle that popped up every five minutes. In the midst of this relative silence, I could eavesdrop on the whisper of the man in front of me who was on a call on his mobile phone, and what he said shocked me. My brain and my ears had to reset themselves to even believe the words that man had uttered. 

I quietly scrambled to my car in the car park, as if I heard nothing at all, sat in, and calmly drove off to my house. On the way, I could still feel the echoes of that call and it truly sent shivers down my spine. I just wanted to reach home immediately and have a nap on my bed to just process this information, which I still could not because on the way home, I was nearly getting into crashes with almost every car on the road, almost using the car as a battering ram. With all this emotion, I somehow reach home and immediately pop into my bedroom and crash onto my bed (weird I did not crash on the road).

I tried sleeping for hours and hours by making my room as cold as possible, tightly wrapping myself into my thick rug. But I just could not fall asleep because my brain keeps harking back to the echoes of that phone call that I just heard. My mind was just playing that scene over and over and over again in my head as if it were like a nightmare but I still did not know how to react to it. But my body did now how to react because, with each passing second, my whole body started trembling, my heartbeat spiked to a level it previously had not and I also started palpitating a lot. The anxiety in me just started to spike up and after a point, I had, had enough of the situation and decided to just get up from bed and go into my hall. 

I sat on the couch in my hall with my legs stretched out on the table in front of me. I decided to play the moment in my head for one last time to end this misery within me because I knew I could not do anything to reverse whatsoever happened. 

The man on the phone whispers “Remember Robert from the debacle at Egypt…I couldn’t find him yesterday. But, I did find his wife and son at the address you gave me.” and the other side exclaimed, “So what did you…you even do?” To this, the man first looks around him to notice any suspicious people around him (does not notice Robert behind him) and then proceeds to whisper “So I….I killed them both instead and burnt their bodies to ash”. Meanwhile, the other side of the phone screams with excitement “Wow….that will make Robert lonely and hollow from within. This will finally make him come to us and apologize. Great work!!” and the call was cut. 

That man was right, I was lonely and hollow from within because my family was my everything to me and I just could not imagine a life without them. With no will to proceed and fight on, I just decided to call it quits and went back to sleep. That day felt like a nightmare but also like an opportunity to start a new life, one where I could live it out without any luxuries and comforts I did not need. It changed me as a person and my worldview towards everything. 

Categories
Lessons life Love people society story theory Thoughts Women

Ophelia: The Tragic Heroine

by:Harika

Ophelia, her very name is firmly rooted within the realm of Greek tragedy and as the Early Modern literature scholar Cherrell Guilfoyle wittily notes, “in one of the fragments of Euripidean tragedy, there is the saying ‘Woman brings to man the greatest possible succor and the greatest possible harm.’ 

In this way, from the very beginning of Hamlet, Ophelia is portrayed in a way that she was meant to be a helpmate to the men in her life. Thus, Ophelia’s degradation, descent into madness, and eventual suicide are all incredibly clear signs that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.

And this is where I am completely at odds with the given narrative about Ophelia

Ophelia didn’t just go crazy because her ex-boyfriend killed her father.

Ophelia went mad because her entire narrative arc in Hamlet is defined by patriarchal control and being treated like a child despite being an adult. Her first scene is one in which both her brother and father warn her not to be involved with a man she loves, but the way they do it is so telling.

Laertes, brother of Ophelia offers a compelling reason for her to be careful: no matter how true his love or how good his intentions, Hamlet is a prince, and his actions can’t always be his own. If he marries he has to marry for political gains, and Ophelia is the daughter of a court advisor with no title. So Ophelia could never be more than a mistress to him, dearly and truly loved but living in social and moral/religious disgrace, reflecting poorly on herself and on her father and brother. And sure, if Hamlet were king, she’d be well taken care of even if she weren’t married, but there’s still the aforementioned problem of honor. And besides, there’s the bigger problem of Hamlet not being king. If he so chose, Claudius could have Ophelia sent away, or imprisoned, or anything else that Hamlet would have no legal power to stop. So it’s better not to get entangled with Hamlet.

Laertes’ position is one that denies Ophelia happiness, but it’s also one that recognizes she’s an adult woman and one that is based on practical truths. It’s a position that grants Ophelia time and agency to end things with Hamlet gradually and in a way that lets both of them process the situation. Well, although, there’s a certain degree of talking down he does to her, it strikes me more like the way an older sibling will speak from experience when telling their younger sibling not to do something stupid. Moreover, their conversation is also one where Ophelia has a chance to respond to him in kind and remind him not to be a hypocrite because Laertes isn’t exactly old either.

But then along comes Polonius, proud and concerned father of Laertes and Ophelia to trample all over that. He speaks all over her, gives her no chance to respond, and treats her like a stupid child, comparing her to a bird caught in a trap. Unlike Laertes, he insists that Hamlet must have wicked intent and be seducing her—thereby assuming that Ophelia isn’t adult enough to have romantic or sexual agency. He’s essentially the kind of dad who threatens to do violence to his adult daughter’s boyfriends (well, not exactly, but definitely the same mindset). He refuses to believe Ophelia when she says that Hamlet has been genuine and gentlemanly to her, not trusting that she’s wise enough to recognize when someone is “only after one thing” versus when it’s actual love.

He then goes on to order her to return his letters, to order her to cut off from him completely and immediately (with no chance to process), and to then read some of Hamlet’s words to her to the king and queen, violating their privacy and turning something lovely into a reason for shame. Polonius says Ophelia gives him the “doubt” that the letter was out of filial duty, but given his busybody character and how he forced an answer out of her earlier, it’s not too much of a stretch to guess that he forced her to give it to him. Polonius then proceeds to conspire with Claudius, the quintessential antagonist to use Ophelia as a tool against Hamlet, putting her in a position to be deeply wounded.

I know a lot of interpretations of the “get thee to a nunnery” scene which is quite a memorable scene in the play reveals the misogynistic ideals of Hamlet where he tells Ophelia to become a nun, swearing off men and marriage as women who give birth are breeders of “sinners” as all men are sinners. You could interpret the scene as Ophelia completely believing that Hamlet is actually scorning and being cruel to her, and frankly, I’m not sure that that scene can’t be played straight on his end either. Maybe Hamlet sees that this is Polonius’ meddling, but maybe he thinks Ophelia is going along with it. In short, though, her father’s actions have put Ophelia in a position to be verbally abused by someone who she believes loved her.

However, later in the scenes you could make out a flirtatious conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia but that’s all in the tone—you could make it flirty, but you could also make it Ophelia being distant out of obligation to obey her father, while Hamlet’s goading her with sexual jokes. So it’s him once again being loathsome at best, cruel at worst.

And the final straw comes when he kills Polonius. Polonius’ death wasn’t the sole cause of Ophelia going mad, but it was the final straw. Sure, her father was a controlling meddlesome imbecile, but whether we read him as actually abusive or not, Ophelia probably still loved him as her father, complicated love or not. And now she’s an orphan, and it’s all because of the actions of the man she loved.

Like, Hamlet’s actions are understandable from his own perspective. But Ophelia doesn’t know about the ghost, doesn’t know about the murder, knows nothing. All she sees is the severe mental deterioration of her boyfriend coupled with the heartbreaking knowledge that her brother and father are right about the relationship not being viable. So she can’t be with him and can’t even stand by him to support him. And then she becomes a pawn in a political game she doesn’t even really understand, her every action directed by powerful men, which results in said boyfriend lashing out at her. And then her boyfriend kills her father for no reason she can understand other than him maybe being insane.

Consequently, you can see why Ophelia would be a little out of her mind by the time she dies.

Categories
death feelings humans Lessons life Love people personal Poem story

A ballad for the love of death.

By: Ashar

I heard a sound, as faint as her tone

The sun was as shy, the river was nigh

For the world was in a spiral, a story for one’s dawn

I drag by my reflection across the sands of her bly

.

Caught my eye, bright as the sun flickering by the ocean

Fresh as her soul was the dress she wore, ashen

The air gazing through my chest spout out alive

Ah! But her heart was of stone, she could not thrive

.

A story of betrayal, sorrow, and love

It was what made us whole for each disfigured

To each of their own, the darkness came from above

Images dancing of our hands together, walls lingered

.

Golden hair, purple eyes, mango residue

A gentle smile, soft-touch, there were only a few

Warm lighting, cozy was her sensation, innocent like a barn owl

Writing about her I wonder who was she under her cowl

.

Running through the park, memories rewritten, like a dandelion shawl

Giggling and looking at each other, oh! did we fall.

.

She might be gone, fixed was she, for I was broken once more

By my dishonesty, I don’t understand why she has to go

Young was her spirit, or so spoke her lore

Everything seems clear, blinded by the snow

.

It was as if yesterday she was my guardian

Couldn’t see for she was my grim reaper

Shredded once again, I started to wonder

.

Who was she when I first met her, I heard the accordion

Who were are we really?

Categories
change people personal Poem Self story World

Stories Under The Sun

by:C

There’s a story I want to write about a man

Who lives in the house next to mine

Or in the house across the street

Or about a butterfly that interweaves a pattern

Around the pointed edges of a fern in my backyard;

A pattern that almost resembles a cocoon.

On most afternoons I see you before me,

Sweat glistening brighter than the rays of sun that

Burn dreams to a crisp outside.

In the moments I don’t see you, I envision you lying next to me,

Your face in close proximity.

Aren’t mirages supposed to cease?

The stories I want to tell never want to be told by me.

I want to write about how the man in the house

Stares at the butterfly every morning as he steps out

To collect his day’s newspaper;

How I am unsure if the butterfly dances for him

Or if he buys the newspaper as an excuse to witness

The former’s grace.

Of course, there are obvious plot holes in this story.

The butterfly wouldn’t live long enough for this to become

A habit for the man, and men do not need

Newspapers as an excuse to glance at a thing of beauty.

In the past, I wanted to be the kind of poet who describes

Her lover with only the most exquisite of metaphors

But I’ve realized I might not be the kind of person who

Likes to talk about her lover or even call someone her lover

For that matter.

To be honest, I’m not even a poet in the first place.

The thing about the sun is that you don’t talk about it.

It is enough to bathe in its presence,

To feel its rays on your skin even when you’re not looking.

It is enough to know it sustains you even when it is beyond 

Your hemisphere’s line of sight.

What I mean is,

On my most afternoons, when I press my eyelids shut,

You’re the glowing sphere of light at the back of my mind

And maybe for tonight, that’s the only story I need.

Categories
change childhood chilling Halloween story thriller violence Women

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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The Thrilling Touchdown

by:Aasika

On the bustling dawn of June 24, 1982, the magnificent British airways flight 9 bearing 247 lives set off for its long journey piercing through several time zones from Heathrow, London to Auckland, New Zealand. Akin any other day, as the flight picked its customary route devoid of menace to Auckland, it was expected to perform halts at Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth, Melbourne to unload and load passengers before finally arriving in Auckland.

Moments after the plane landed in Kuala Lumpur, the aircraft fuelers barged into the runway and emptied 100 tons of fuel into its tank and the weary flight crew was relieved by the consummate captain Eric Moody, the avid first officer Roger Greaves, and a new cabin crew before it took off again to resume to Auckland. The passengers were experiencing a smooth flight and relishing the cozy inflight services. After ensuring that the midnight sky is lucid and the weather conditions are pleasant, Eric showed himself out of the cockpit to spend a penny.

The captain’s run to the comfort room was intruded on when the first officer called him out. Sensing the seriousness in Roger’s tone, Eric strode towards the cockpit. On his way back, the first red flag arose. Eric espied patterns of fumes escaping the ventilation duct. Given that the crew members were permitted to smoke in the plane until the late 1980s, the captain initially disregarded the smoke. Seconds later, the intensity of the smoke made it challenging for the captain to ignore it like a cigar corollary. The pilot slid the cockpit door open, still perplexed from trying to discover the source of the smoke.

As Eric entered the cockpit, he was hustled out of his thoughts as he witnessed the concerned first officer’s fixated look on the windshield of the plane which was now being ambushed by flashes of light. The captain calmed the perturbed first officer by explaining that the flashes are a resultant of the “Elmo’s fire” phenomenon which is caused by the thunder clouds producing static electricity and dismisses the arisen second red flag as well. When the metal surface of an aircraft comes in contact with the static electricity created by the thunder clouds, Elmo’s fire phenomenon occurs.

The pilots then cautiously checked the radar in anticipation of spotting the thunder cloud liable for this but to their astonishment, no such cloud was found anywhere around the airplane’s vicinity. This added up to the captain’s perplexity as now he hasn’t the faintest notion of what causes the light flashes. After exchanging glances of bafflement and letting out sighs of exasperation, the duo took a beat to process whatever had happened till now but certainly, they were not mentally prepared to process the series of events that’s about to transpire in the next few minutes.

The plane was approaching Jakarta and it was 8:40 PM in Jakarta now, and the amount of smoke entering the cabin was swiftly increasing. This issue started to create fret and panic among the passengers. The temperature in the cabin began augmenting exponentially and the people in the plane started sweating profusely and experienced breathing discomforts. Furthermore, the passengers seated beside the window witnessed weird sparks in the wings. All of this happened in a span of two minutes only and put the cabin in complete chaos and the attendants attempted their best to comfort the passengers.

At 8:42 PM, the captain received an alert call from the first engineer officer who stated that the plane’s fourth engine was on fire and instructed to shut it down immediately. Only now did the captain fathom the predicament their flight is in. It was 8:43 PM and the captain received another warning call stating that their second engine had failed as well. Taken aback by the instantaneous turn of events, before he could even have a moment to loosen up and clear his head, he received a couple more warning calls stating that the airplane’s first and third engine had failed as well.

Several thousand feet above the ground, the flight was now levitating with no functioning engines, or, the flight was now gradually falling. The first officer quickly garnered the facts, did the math, and eventually concluded that the plane can fly for another 23 minutes and that it is capable of covering only 168 kilometers more and the pilots hoped to find an airport to land in that range. The Jakarta airport happened to be the closest.

The captain contacted the Jakarta airport immediately and explained the criticality of their situation. The air traffic controllers meticulously listened and also enlightened him that currently, they were hovering over the Java Island area which is comprised of a multitude of mountains, and insinuated that they fly at least 11,500 ft above sea level to prevent collisions and reach the airport. Haplessly, the current rate of descent which the plane is undergoing makes it improbable to fly the plane at the required altitude and make the cut.  

The pilots looked around in hopes to sight an acreage to safely land the plane and the Indian Ocean turns out to be their only option. The pilots geared up to perform the intentional water touchdown right after the captain performed one more futile attempt to restart their engines. Even though the captain’s landing announcement rendered momentary solace for the passengers, their apprehension returned when they saw the flight’s engines on fire through the windows.

Individual apprehension transformed into mass hysteria in the cabin and the passengers were having a hard time pulling themselves together. Families snuggled together, the parents protectively embraced their children, youngsters supportively held the arms of their paramours, the elderly faithfully chanted prayers and the others in utter despair started writing for their loved ones.

Just when the passengers were dwelling in the presumption that their circumstance couldn’t deteriorate any further, the cabin started depressurizing and the lights in the cabin started flickering. Next, the oxygen level in the cabin instantly dropped and commenced another commotion as the passengers jostled to grab themselves an oxygen mask. However, the depressurization formed in the cabin was so high that not even the masks could avail the asphyxiation experienced by the members in the plane.

Acknowledging the jeopardy caused by the depressurization, the captain performs a nosedive by motioning the plane perpendicularly down and descends to an altitude of 13,500 ft now. Only now did the oxygen level in the cabin normalize and the passengers in the plane were able to breathe properly. Around 8:56 PM, the captain made one last attempt to start the fourth engine and to his surprise, the fourth engine started and miraculously so did the other three engines.

The captain’s ecstasy at that moment was inexplicable. At the current low-end altitude at which the plane was flying, the mountains were still a peril. So, the captain deftly lifted the plane to a decent sea level to elude the mountains. Minutes after the lift, Elmo’s fire phenomenon recurred and the second engine failed again. Not desiring the other obnoxious series of events to repeat and before the other three engines could fail, he steered back the plane to a lower altitude of 12,000 ft. 

After tackling several other hindrances, the flight finally approached the Jakarta airport. The fact that Elmo’s fire obfuscated the windshield and the landing wheels weren’t functioning perfectly didn’t make their landing any easier but the pilot succeeded in making a not-so-smooth yet safe touchdown. Thrilled by the successful landing the crew members let out sighs of relief and giggles of happiness and the passengers safely exited the plane with no major injuries.

Later, the investigators came up with plausible theories to explain the weird behavior of the aircraft. The airplane happened to have flown right over the Mount Galuggung Volcano. The ashes from this Volcano had formed a cloud at that particular altitude in the atmosphere where the plane was flying. Since the ashes were dry, the layer was invisible on the radar and the pilots were ignorant of the existent threat. The ashes of this Volcano, when it encompassed the aircraft, was liable for all the factors from Elmo’s fire to the engine failures. 

This route to Auckland was shut down for a while after this incident. A couple of days later, after a Singapore airlines flight encountered the same issue while flying over java island, this route has been permanently banned and an alternative has been provided for the pilots to fly.

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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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His Absence

by:Panthalassa

His eyes spoke more than his mouth, 

I don’t know whether it was my thoughts, 

My reflection, in those eyes

Or that was his own?

I don’t know if he loved me the most?

But I know, I know for sure, that I loved him the most!

.

.

There’s more flesh & blood walking same foot with me, 

Closer beings around me I care about but

But his Absence seems a lot to be filled by these all.

.

.

And know that dear I will wait for you in each life, I swear!

I am not sure I will recognize you or not, 

I am not sure you will remember our connection or not, 

I am not sure you will come to me or not, 

But I am sure that I need you to come. 

.

.

I called you ‘handsome’, I meant that with all my 5 senses;

You are still the best boy I ever laid my eyes on !

.

.

You were the most graceful of any of your loyal kind,

.

.

I believed that you will die along minutes, hours, days & years with 

My fading memories but I was wrong, 

True! My memories are fading like it always does

But your absence is living by consuming mine inside,

.

.

It’s making me hollow !

.

.

But I am waiting, I am waiting for your love to fill me from inside

Cell by cell, feeling by feeling, it will;

.

.

I hope it does.

.

.

Because I know my love for you is stronger than your absence, 

Stronger than the absence of your touch, 

Stronger than your irritation for me, 

Stronger than your protectiveness for your food !

.

.

It is the strongest force in the universe!

It’s infinity times stronger than the strong nuclear force !

.

.

But my lord, that damn painful fact stands true 

that I MISS YOU!

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THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS – A REVIEW

by Chitteshwari

I don’t know about you, but when I think of books written by Indian authors, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is always the first that comes to mind. After years of putting it off, I finally delved into its world recently.

Published in 1997, it is a contemporary novel that is highly regarded by both, readers and critics alike. Set in the little town of Ayemenem in Kerala in 1969, it revolves around the lives of Ammu, her fraternal twins Rahel and Estha, and the rest of their family. The plot dances gracefully around one specific event in their lives that changes their world forever. 

The first thing you notice about the book is its writing. Roy is an impeccable writer and it shows in every single line. She works her magic so you can visualize every little detail of the surrounding she is describing. Certain phrases are repeated throughout the book and the result is haunting. In one chapter, she describes, over the course of multiple pages, a Kathakali routine performed by two dancers in a temple courtyard. The description is so startlingly vivid that when it ended, I felt as though I had just witnessed the first Kathakali performance of my life. In another scene, she narrates in detail a horrifying incident of police brutality that sent chills down my spine.

The book is not just an ordinary story, but an eye-opener about the severity of the caste system that exists in India. Throughout the book, Roy weaves a strong political commentary into the writing, giving insight into the advent and rise of communism in Kerala. If you venture into this novel thinking it will be a pleasant, comfortable read, you will soon realize that you are highly mistaken. The author does not sugarcoat things. She serves society in its raw form on the platter and yanks away the reader’s rose-tinted glasses. She does not shy away from exploring topics that are considered taboo even today, and the various court cases filed against her for it serve as plenty of proof. To witness a story so honest to itself and its world is quite refreshing, in the same way, that dipping your toes into an icy lake in the middle of the night is.

Arundhati Roy does not create any one-dimensional story or character. She gives almost never-ending depth to every element of the story, which is commendable, considering that this is her debut novel. The minor characters are in no way just props used to further the main storyline (something which many authors and scriptwriters of today could make note of). Even the local temple elephant, Kochu Thumban has his contribution to the way the lives of the protagonists are shaped, just like every minor element in our real-life surroundings affects our growth as human beings. The butterfly effect is something that comes into focus here. However, one (and probably the only) drawback of this book is that there are maybe one too many characters mentioned. Up until the first quarter of the book, this creates some amount of confusion because one tends to misplace their names and identities.

That being said, Roy presents her characters as they are, with all their uneven edges and rough textures. Everyone is reduced to their crude humanity, stripped down to their naked, imperfect morality. She makes the reader jump from hate to love to sympathy, all in the span of a single page. The reader’s heart is almost a puppet in her skilled hands and she masterfully tugs the right strings every single time. She evokes every emotion in the spectrum and in the end, you’re left with a flood of empathy. You’re not going to find any black and white characters on these pages.

The highlight of the book, however, is the sequence and pacing of the narration. The book starts at the end of the story and finishes in the middle. Roy delves not just into the events of a single night, but everything in the past that led up to the present, and the aftermath of the tragedy, over a decade later. Sometimes she describes only a couple of nights over the course of a chapter, whereas in other places, she covers years of the characters’ lives in the span of two pages. Throughout this narration, the reader is never in confusion, all thanks to the brilliance of her craft. She works the reins of storytelling flawlessly and (almost effortlessly) ensures that every change of pace and every switch in the timeline hits exactly as she intends it to.

The God of Small Things is a beautifully complex book, a mirror held to society and humanity. Arundhati Roy ambitiously takes on a lot of elements and gets most of them right. It’s a must-read, both for fans of artful storytelling and for those who look for books with a cause. A sure contemporary classic in the years to come, it completely deserves that spot in every reader’s bookshelf and heart.

Rating: 4/5