Patterns

3. Vikram likes to wash his hands frequently.

6. One is not a good number.

9. Two isn’t great either.

12. Multiples of three are good.

15. He needs to hum the tune from Star Wars while he does it.

18. The Empire Strikes Back is his favourite.

21. It’s actually the fifth film in the series. Not the third.

24. Vikram already liked the movie before Rashi told him about this.

27. The numbering is messed up in Star Wars.

30. A lot of things are messed up.

33. The pavement in front of his house is a good example.

36. Vikram cycles on it every day on the way to visit Rashi.

39. It’s a ritual he’s followed since the day at the beach.

42. The pavement full of tiny cracks that taper out like branches, looking to escape the concrete.

45. Vikram has every one of them memorised.

48. Sometimes there are new ones.

51. He has to stop and examine them closely when that happens.

54. There’s a specific way in which they need to be avoided.

57. There’s a pattern. And it’s nice if it’s followed precisely.

60. But sometimes Vikram cannot get the pattern right.

63. That’s not a huge problem.

66. He waits nine seconds and tries again.

69. All he needs to do is to hold his breath this time.

72. Vikram’s a pro at holding his breath.

75. He got good at it during his swimming lessons.

78. He is a competent swimmer.

81. But Rashi was better.

84. He would watch mesmerised, as she cut through the water with her languid grace.

87. Rashi wanted to swim in the Olympics one day.

90. Vikram looked up the Olympics on Wikipedia.

93. The length of an Olympic pool is fifty metres.

96. Their pool was only half the length.

99. Vikram and Rashi decided to practice on the beach.

102. The waves were fierce. But they were good swimmers.

105. Vikram was the first to notice her cries for help.

108. There were three lifeguards on the beach.

111. Vikram ran to the nearest one for help.

114. The lifeguard swam towards her flailing body.

117. It was over soon.

120. Vikram caught a glance of the lifeguard’s jersey through his tears.

123. It had the number one printed on it. In bold white font.

126. One is not a good number.

Fishing

It was a spectacle for the ages. And I had a front row seat to it every Monday morning. My elder brother, decked in his precisely tattered bomber jacket, would be whistle a familiar tune. The crisp, morning air in conjunction with intermittent splashes of the cold Amsterdam canal water never failed to electrify our spirits. My brother, if in a genial mood, would let me help. But most days, I would sit in my small seat on the boat, next to my brother, scrunched up like a ball of cotton, just absorbing every bit of the performance unfolding in front of me.

An inevitable crowd of people, meant to be grinding their way to work, would stop and gather around the edge of the canal. The canal was the arena and my brother its glorious gladiator. Unfazed by the simmering expectations of the gathered crowd, my brother would continue his merry whistling. The same lyric-less tune, over and over, rising in pitch, over and over, until it would reach a crescendo.

I’d notice the familiar flicker in his eyes, as they lit up, sensing their prey. A quick, efficient movement would anchor the boat. With a gazelle like grace, his fingers would dance and weave in intricate ways on the control panel, culminating in a loud mechanical screech. A bear- like claw, awakened from its slumber, would stretch itself out in the sun. It would hover for a moment over the water, trying to get its bearings, before making a plunge into the dark abyss of the sludgy canal.

For a moment, nothing would happen. And then it would all happen very quickly. The claw would struggle, splashing around as it overpowered its prey, commanded by my brother’s experienced hands. A collective gasp would emanate from the gathered crowd. The skin of my arm would break out in goosebumps. The claw would emerge victorious with the prey dangling in its monstrous grip — a rusty, muddy bicycle, plucked from the depths of the Amsterdam canal.

And everyone would applaud.

The End Is Near – Chapter 1

Please steal a quick glance at your watches. That’s precisely when this story takes place.

We zoom into a fairly run-of-the-mill banana republic in East Asia and find ourselves inside a military command room. A control panel takes center stage. It’s studded with a bunch of glowing thingamajiggies, which radiate the most sinister intentions. A big, bright red button, sits in the middle of the console, daring itself to be pressed.

A group of people in military uniforms surround the control panel. They’re led by a small-ish, big-boned figure, dressed impeccably in a black two-piece ensemble, straight out of the latest issue of The Despots’ Weekly. All of them sport Nationally Approved Hairstyle #1 with flair. There is no Nationally Approved Hairstyle #2.

At this precise moment, a highly decorated General decides to let out a cough.

“Are you sure you want to do this, O’ Supreme Leader?” he asks.

Kim raises a displeased eyebrow in his direction.

“Of course you are, of course you are,” he flounders, and steps up to the control panel with haste.

The drama reaches its peak. One of the military men lets out a gasp. Kim shakes his head and makes a mental note to execute the bumbling lot when they’re done.

The General closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, prays to the Nationally approved God, and presses the red monstrosity.

For a moment, nothing happens.

Slowly, the control panel comes alive. A stream of characters flash on the large curved screen. The General peers in and reads them.

“Answer the security question to proceed: What is Hyun-Ki’s favourite flavour of ice cream?”

Everyone turns to look at Hyun-Ki. Then they remember. Then they slowly back away from Kim.

Hyun-Ki is the retired former Head of Defense who’d been sent as a diplomatic ambassador to a neighbouring country a couple of years ago, as reward for his years of service. He had been in constant touch with his fatherland, until sometime last year, when he sent out a cryptic message that read, “Have you heard of this thing called Amway?” No one has heard from him since.

Kim shoves the General away and enters one of the 15 million Nationally approved ice-cream flavours in the country. The control panel whirs for a minute, then begins to wail like a petulant child nearing naptime, before completely shutting down.

We zoom out of the bunker to avoid the imminent sounds of gunshot that would echo through it shortly, and zoom into an innocuous looking house in the suburbs of the city.

A girl sleeps fitfully on a tattered mattress on the floor. She’s awoken by the sound of her phone.

“Hello? Who is this? Oh, yes sir…yes, this is she. Yes…I did say that. Yes sir, given enough time and the right resources, I can hack into any computer on Earth.”

Flipping out – Chapter 1

“Do you want fries with that?” I asked the guy in front of the cash register.

“Huh?”

“Do you want fries with your burger?” I repeated, contorting my face into a smile.

 The gentleman proceeded to think long and hard. His thick eyebrows furrowed as his brain processed the many variables required to solve the riddle I had thrust upon him.

I wished I’d given so much thought into choosing my college major. 

In hindsight, a degree in Fijian Art History with a minor in Shakespearean Sonnet Appreciation did not exactly set me up well for the world of employment. But hey, you know how it is. I was a young, cocky, generally unbathed, upstart of a man, fresh out of college, armed with an unfinished draft of my ground-breaking fantasy, sci-fi, gothic romance novella. The world was supposed to be my oyster.

Thirty five generic template rejections from publishers, followed by an attempt at self-publishing that was widely panned by the two people who read it, followed by the refusal of unemployment benefits by my now ex-girlfriend, I found myself in the exciting world of flipping burgers.

I still remember my first day at the job – you never forget these things, do you? I stood in a circle with seven fellow aspiring gourmands, in the mechanised underbelly of the McWendy’s kitchen, at the ungodly hour of 5 AM. In the centre, stood a rotund young man in his late-twenties, dressed in the McWendy’s standard-issue ensemble – a shower cap, t-shirt and apron adorned with an image of the iconic McWendy’s smiling burger, and a badge that had the words, ‘Steve – Shift Manager and Trainer’ written on it.

We were surrounded by a cornucopia of cooking paraphernalia – an aluminium fryer that bubbled like something out of Macbeth’s opening scene, a large burger assembly station holding stacks of buns and toppings, an ice-cream machine with spigots for the four standard flavours, a large refrigerator, and myriad other contraptions that beeped and burped moodily.

For the next 3 hours, Steve trained us in the dark arts of fast-food production.

“You’re doing it wrong,” Steve said pointing at me.

“Am I?” I replied, picking up the unfortunate burger patty from the floor with my spatula.

“It’s easy – it’s all in the wrist. Here, let me show you.”

The burger patty leaped in the air, performed a triple somersault, and nailed a perfect ten-point landing on an awaiting bun.

I won’t lie. I was quite impressed with the man.

Untitled Short Story – Chapter 1

An expectant hum permeates the air. Or maybe that’s just my jangling nerves. A man in a black gown sits beside me, intermittently whispering instructions into my ear. He’s my court-appointed attorney, a luxury granted only to the poor and defenceless, and in rare cases, the indefensible.

The prosecution has set up shop on my immediate right. The prosector looks like something straight out of a Netflix drama, right down to the generously gelled hair and pointed leather shoes. He says something to the plaintiff seated next to him. She’s a confident, middle-aged woman dressed in a conservative black pantsuit, which is complimented by her tortoise-rimmed spectacles. She also holds the highest office in the country’s Department of Intelligence. They let out a collective chuckle.

To the prosecution’s right, inside a wooden enclosure, the members of the jury are in various stages of settling into their chairs. Some of them have smiles on their faces as they make small talk with their neighbours. Others stare blankly ahead. One of them, a young man wearing a crisp white shirt and tie, shuffles his feet and steals a glance at his watch. His face crumples into a frown. Things aren’t moving as fast as he would like. I do not share his impatience.

Straight behind, a wooden barrier, also called the bar in courtroom lingo, isolates us from the audience gathered to watch the trial. They’re a motley group – reporters looking for a headline, law students forced to attend a trial for a passing grade, and voyeuristic members of the public hoping for a good show. A lady thinks about dumping her jacket on one of the empty chairs in the front row. She eventually resists, possibly realising they’re meant for the defendant’s family and well-wishers.

Straight up ahead, across the well of the court, the judge’s bench towers over us. The witness box is to its right, comprised of a chair within its own wooden fence. Isolating things inside enclosures seems to be the guiding tenet of the courtroom’s architecture.

An abrupt silence falls on the proceedings as the bailiff announces the judge’s appearance. A tall, imposing man, in his sixties, or even older, makes his way to the bench. The oversized judicial robes and wig do nothing to temper the sense of purpose and authority that he relays even in this short walk. I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn to see that it’s from my attorney. His gestures make me realise that I’m the only person in the court who’s still seated. I hasten to my feet and brace myself for what’s about to come.

Noise

I live in an old house. You know the type. The floor, the wall, the cupboards – everything creaks.

A side effect of growing up here is that I’m always unimpressed by the so-called horror movies Hollywood churns out. Ninety percent of the scares are just creaky household furniture and fittings. Hah. I’d never lose sleep over that.

But tonight’s different. I’m jarred awake in the dead of night by something I’ve never heard before. Complete and utter silence.

When I look up, my eyes catch it pacing the room. But something’s wrong. The floor doesn’t groan in complaint under its giant, scar-laced feet.

The creature stops to scratch something into the wall. Its claws slowly, but deliberately rip through the paint. And yet, I still don’t hear anything.

As the silence becomes deafening, I slide back into bed, and pray for something, anything, to creak again.

The Twist

The steak was succulent. The chicken juicy. The entire meal had a certain…character to it. Vikram tucked into it with unusual abandon.

Ana finally spoke when Vikram had finished licking his fingers.

“You like it?”

“Like it? It’s magical! Where did you find this genius chef?”

“Oh, he’s good, no doubt. But the magic here lies in the ingredients and also,” she hesitated before adding, “the meticulousness with which they were sourced.”

#

“Stop!” My companion smashed his fist on the bar counter, spilling some of his beer in the process. “I’m not going to listen to any more of this tripe – I can see the twist coming a mile away. This Ana lady served him a human being, didn’t she?” he asked.

I smirked in that annoying way which always got on people’s nerves.

“No, she didn’t. How predictable would that be? And who said anything about there being a twist anyway?”

“Fine. Continue then,” he said.

“Where was I? Oh right, the source.”

#

“Where do you source your food from?” Vikram asked.

“We grow it ourselves,” Ana replied.

“What’s your secret?” he asked as he not-so-discreetly mopped the remnants of the thick meaty sauce from the plate with his fingers and licked them.

“Our animals are on a special diet. So are our vegetables. We don’t use ordinary feed or fertiliser.”

#

“She grinds humans up into the fertiliser and the feed, doesn’t she? Is that it? It’s even lamer than I thought!” My companion raged.

“Why are you being so morbid? And I do agree — that would have been very lame. Now, if you don’t have any more theories, shall I continue?”

He took a large gulp of his beer, and nodded. A cold determination had crept into his eyes.

I smirked again.

#

“I’d love to meet and compliment the chef in person. This was the best meal I’ve had in my life,” Vikram said.

“I’ll summon him immediately,” Ana made a couple of gestures at the server.

A few seconds later, a voice coughed behind him. Vikram looked up to see a tall slender man in a chef’s hat standing over him.

“Well, that was quick. I didn’t even hear you come in,” Vikram said to the chef as he shook his surprisingly cold hand.

“Meet The Count, our head chef. He has apprenticed under a lot of culinary masters and is now a man who possesses the sum of their skills. He’s absolutely lapped up their talents, so to speak,” Ana said.

The Count smiled at him. Vikram smiled back. The Count’s teeth glinted.

#

“Vampire!”

“This, sir, isn’t chic-lit!” I said with as much indignation as I could muster.

#

“What’s your secret?” Vikram asked.

“Would you believe, cauldrons? I always cook in cauldrons. And I like to sing with the other chefs while I do it. That helps immensely,” The Count replied.

“That’s…interesting,” Vikram said.

“Surely, there must be something else?” Vikram probed further. He knew The Count was hiding something.

The Count hesitated for a bit, then leaned into Vikram’s ear and whispered.

#

“Warlock?”

“Nope,” I said.

#

“Salt. Lots of it,” The Count said. “And a shitload of MSG,” he added with a wink.

#

“You’re horrible at spotting the twist,” I said to my companion. And then I ate him.

Telling that story always gives me the munchies.

The Noise

I’ve grown up in a very old house. You know, the kind where the floor, the wall, the cupboards…everything creaks. I’ve long been used to the creepy sounds they make. One interesting side-effect of growing up in such a house is that I’m never impressed by the so-called horror movies Hollywood churns out. If you really think about it, ninety percent of the scares are just that – creaky furniture. Hah. I’m not losing any sleep over that.

But, tonight’s different. I was jarred awake in the dead of night by something I’d never heard before.

Complete and utter silence.

When I look up, my eyes catch something pacing the room. Yet, I don’t hear the floor groan in complaint. It stops to scratch something onto the wall. But, the walls don’t screech.

As the silence becomes deafening, I slide back into bed, and pray for something…anything…to creak again.