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. He tucked into it with unusual abandon.

She finally spoke when he’d finished licking his fingers.

“You like it?”

“Like it? It’s magical! Where did you find such a 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. She 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 now…oh right…the source.”

#

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

“We grow it ourselves,” she replied.

“What’s your secret?” he asked as he not-so-discreetly mopped the remaining juices off the plate with his fingers.

“Our farm 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!”

“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 nodded. A cold, steely 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 ever had in my life,” he said.

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

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

“Well, that was quick,” he said.

“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,” she said.

The Count smiled at him. He 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?” he asked.

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

“That’s…interesting,” he said.

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

The Count hesitated for a bit, then leaned into his ear and whispered.

#

“Warlock?”

“Nope.”

#

“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. And then I ate him.

Telling that story always gives me the munchies.

The Right Swipe

Vivek’s finger moved across the phone screen in a rhythmic dance that had been perfected over many a bored night.

Too tall. Left swipe. Too thin. Left swipe. Too short. Left swipe. Obscure quote. Left swipe. Pet as their profile picture. Left swipe. Too out of my league. Left swipe. Too…

Just right.

Trying to reign in his excitement, Vivek clicked on the icon to bring up the profile information.

His heart sank when he read the first line.

Sorry, but I’m not here for hookups.

Vivek shook his head in disbelief and swiped left. His betrayed mind wrestled with a lot of questions.

Why would anyone using this app say such an absurd thing? What were these people even using this app for? And which app DID they use for hookups?

His gaze moved to the night sky that streamed in through his bedroom window. His fingers did not stop even as his eyes latched onto something in the darkness.

A shooting star. Or at least it looked like one. It wasn’t a regular occurrence in the city’s polluted skies. In fact, now that he thought about it, Vivek realised that he’d never seen one in person before.

Maybe I should make a wish.

Vivek chuckled to himself, acutely aware of how childish that thought was. His reverie was interrupted by a loud ding from his phone.

It’s a match! You’ve both liked each other.

Vivek felt the familiar rush of dopamine which always accompanied that notification. It was instantly replaced by the also usual mixture of dread and despondence.

Probably a bot, a man masquerading as a woman, or even worse – a crazy, desperate woman, he sighed, completely missing the irony in the last bit.

He wished it was someone likeable for once. Someone funny, intelligent, beautiful, and crazy, smoking hot. Someone he could finally quit the app for.

The screen flickered. Vivek adjusted his glasses.

Well, that’s never happened before.

He thumped the phone on the side with his palm – an instinct that had carried over from the days of bulky malfunctioning television sets.

The screen stopped flickering. The notification popped up again. Vivek quickly clicked on it to bring up the profile – a little more anticipation than usual writ on his face.

Violetxa Archionniz, 145.

Uranian. Pilot. I hate people that discriminate on the basis of species. Interested in males with two legs/tentacles and compatible reproductive paraphernalia. Strictly no Martians – I’m allergic to their tongues, bad breath, and general lack of intelligence.

Vivek smiled. In his experience, a weird sense of humour usually translated to a penchant for weird things in other departments.

He scanned the screen for the option to send her a message. To his bewilderment, he could not find it anywhere. But, he did notice an option that he’d never seen before.

Bl454Hasdsadrwk, it read.

That makes no sense.

Putting it down to a glitch in the system, Vivek clicked on the unintelligible option anyway.

He let out a scream as an invisible force lifted his body off the bed, suspending him in mid air, his loose pyjamas dangling off his scrawny legs. He swirled in the air for a long couple of seconds before vanishing into the proverbial thin air.

When Vivek reopened his eyes, a universe full of darkness stretched before him in every direction. His legs flailed in a futile attempt to find the familiar comfort of solid ground. A few silent seconds, maybe even minutes, passed by as Vivek called out into the dark void. And then, an unfamiliar form materialised in front of him. His eyes finally had something to focus onto.

The thing, or creature, looked nothing like he’d ever seen, or even imagined, before. It was majorly composed of what could only be described as sharp, pointy, drill-like things whirring on the ends of several tentacles.

The creature bellowed. A petrified Vivek couldn’t even figure out which part of the creature that eerie sound originated from. One of the drill-laced tentacles stretched towards him, doing a strange dance. The creature bellowed again.

Come to me, you handsome piece of meat.

A bewildered Vivek looked around instinctively to see who said that. There was no one else around.

Come to me, human. Don’t make me wait.

That’s when it dawned on Vivek. The voices came from his own head. The creature put them in there somehow – maybe it was telepathic.

Violetxa doesn’t like to wait.

Vivek looked at the tentacles that made their purposeful way towards him. He put up his hand and opened his mouth to speak. There was only one thing left to say.

“Sorry, but I’m not here for hookups.”

What if(but not really)

Priya looks at him. He’s just a stranger sharing the same blanket now. She lies awake wondering why she let Him go so many years ago.

She doesn’t know him is actually Him after he lost his memory and got plastic surgery to look like Him.

She’s always wondered why her name is spelt with three silent K’s.

The Heist – Short Story

“We need thirty-one of those,” Rahul pointed inside the store, “The Boss was very specific about that.”

A well-aimed brick sailed through the helpless glass window with a loud crash.

Rashi tiptoed in, her svelte figure deftly avoiding the glass remains. She picked up The Loot with her gloved hands and carefully stashed it away in an airtight container in her backpack. She wished she could contain her nervousness in a similar manner, but her trembling hands wouldn’t listen. After all, The Boss had personally asked for these. One mistake and her partner would have to deal with a gooey mess. Her hands trembled a little more.

“Nice job back there, Rashi. How many did we get?” Rahul asked between deep puffs of breath after they had put a decent distance between themselves and the crime scene.

“Thirty,” Rashi replied, grimacing from a mix of fear and pain. She knew that The Boss never settled for less, even if it was only one less. She also knew, a bit too late, that heels weren’t the most appropriate footwear for a heist. She proceeded to curse The Boss and every actress that had been part of a heist movie under her breath.

“Are you sure you haven’t missed counting one?”

Rashi nodded, massaging her traumatized foot.

“Not good.”

Rashi nodded again.

Rahul paused to catch up with some more of his breath and thoughts. The Boss still hadn’t approved his request for company conveyance and he was too old for these post-heist sprints. He brushed his hands through his graying hair, out of nervous habit, before looking at his mobile phone’s clock. It was two hours to midnight. Not only was he already too old, he constantly continued to get older. The last of his twenties would sail out of reach in a few minutes. He should have been partying with his friends, getting drunk beyond recognition, yet here he was, carrying out dangerous nocturnal heists instead. The thought of his friends jolted him out of his musings. It reminded him that most of them had been bumped off over the years because they had failed to carry out The Boss’ missions. He needed to focus, regrets could wait until he sponsored the next installment of his shrink’s obscenely generous pension plan.

“We must find one more,” Rahul said.

“But…from where? We just got every single one, didn’t we? We’ll have to wait until the next batch.”

“We can’t wait that long. We have less than two hours to get these to The Boss. He explicitly mentioned that he wanted them by midnight. He even had The Glint in his eye when he mentioned it.”

“Not The Glint, no,” Rashi backed away instinctively.

“Yes, The Glint,” Rahul assured her.

“Do…do you have a plan?”

“I do. We’ll need another brick.”

***

The second well-aimed brick of the night sailed through the Jaguar’s windshield, making the obligatory loud crash. The security alarm wailed into the night. Rahul and Rashi receded into the proverbial underbelly of a dark corner in the driveway and waited.

The Maker, as his patrons called him, stirred in bed. Years of paranoia, arising from a mix or real and imaginary attempts to steal The Formula, had turned him into a light sleeper. The frantic cries of his Jaggu did not go unheard for long.

The front door of the duplex house soon opened with a thud. Rahul waited intently behind the bush. A generous belly poked out of the door as if to scout the area, before being followed by the rest of The Maker’s middle-aged figure out into the adjoining driveway. He let out a scream as his eyes fell on the grisly remains of his Jaggu’s windshield, or at least tried to, before he was ambushed by an age-defyingly nimble Rahul. A quick tap on The Maker’s head by Rashi, using the multi-talented brick, brought the driveway scene to a close.

The Maker woke up a couple of minutes later, a little groggy, and tied to one of his own chairs.

“Give us The Formula, if you want to live,” Rashi growled on cue.

“Yes, give us The…um, no, that’s not what we want,” Rahul scowled back.

“No?

“No! What’ll we do with The Formula? He’s The Maker, not us. Only he knows how to make more of them the right way.”

The Maker, interjected at this moment, “Are you saying that you’ve broken into my house, at this ungodly hour, to make me make you a…”

“Yes, and it should be done in the next sixty minutes,” Rahul interjected.

“Impossible. What if I refuse?”

“That Jaguar of yours still has a few windows left, I notice,” Rashi replied.

“Nothing’s impossible for The Maker,” The Maker corrected himself.

Rahul untied The Maker and walked him to The Workshop.

“Now, don’t get any ideas. Just do as you’re told and no one or thing shall get hurt,” Rahul spelled out the standard threat.

The Maker rolled his eyes, “Who do you think I am? Iron Man? I assure you that I won’t create suit-of-war in there. Now leave me alone. I need to concentrate.”

Rahul stepped back with his hands raised in a mock gesture.

“Sheesh. This one has a temper, doesn’t he? I certainly wouldn’t want to break into his home again anytime soon.” Rashi said.

Rahul looked at his phone’s watch. Ninety minutes to midnight. They might just make it in time.

That’s when another one of the clearly overworked brick fraternity made its way through the workshop’s window. They knew how to make an entry, one had to give them that. They could have taught a thing or two to the burly men in masks, who ungainly followed the brick in, negotiating the remaining bits of glass.

The leader of the burly pack scanned the occupants, “Rahul? What are you doing here? You know you aren’t supposed to be part of this mission.”

“Don’t tell me what I can or cannot do, Sharma. You’re not the boss of me.”

“Well, no, but The Boss is the boss of you. Didn’t he explicitly forbid you to mess with this heist?” He paused before adding, “Oh, and thanks for outing my name, you idiot. So much for my disguise.”

“Right,” Rahul rolled his eyes, “The Maker now knows that his house has been broken into by one of the two million Sharmas in the city. You’re done for.”

“Yeah? Well…whatever,” Sharma retaliated as best he could.

Sharma looked at Rashi’s backpack and eventually two and two were put together, “Hold on. What’s in there? Is that The Loot? Were you responsible for the break-in at the Master’s store?”

“Um…”

Sharma pointed a gun at Rahul’s head. “I should have known. You’re always trying to one-up everyone in front of The Boss. Well, not this time. I’m not as stupid as poor gullible Verma. Hand the goodies over.”

“What happened to Verma?” Rashi couldn’t help but ask.

“Not now, Rashi,” Rahul snapped.

“Don’t want to tell her about Verma? I guess there is some remorse in there after all.”

Rahul gritted his teeth. “Let it go, Sharma.”

“Never. Verma and I had a bond that went beyond rhyming surnames. It still pains me when I think of what you did to him.”

“What…happened to him? He’s not dead, is he? Did Rahul kill him?” Rashi asked the most obvious question considering her present company.

”Dead? Hah. If only. No. Verma is very much alive. If you can call that a living.” he paused, trying to power through the pain. “He’s now a…a…soft…software developer,” he blurted out.

Rashi cringed. A sudden wave of nausea swept over her.

“And Rahul here was the one that told him he should become one. He even funded his education,” Sharma added.

“He was good at it! You didn’t see how his face lit up every time he made those Matrix-like things happen to his screen.”

“The things from the bullet scene?” Sharma interjected.

“No, not the bullet scene! I mean those green moving things…you know…the stuff hat…hack…hackers do?”

Sharma shrugged.

Exasperated, Rahul looked at Rashi, searching for support.“It was his calling dammit! Surely you understand why I did that, Rashi? He was not good enough to be one of us. He had…other talents. Surely, in this day and age, we can allow a man to live life as he pleases, even if it is strange and unnatural, without judging him.”

Rashi continued to give him an admonishing stare.

“He told me he wanted to become a full-stack specialist!” Rahul tried going all out in one final attempt at justifying his actions. “He said his idol was Bjarne Stroustrup!”

“Those aren’t real words and you know it,” Sharma interjected.

Rashi nodded in agreement.

Rahul looked crestfallen.

Sharma smirked.

Rashi took this opportunity to snatch the gun from Sharma’s outstretched hand.

“Son of a…,” Sharma began.

Rahul kicked his legs from under him in one smooth motion.

“…unnggggh,” Sharma ended as his head hit the ground, the impact knocking him out immediately.

Rashi cocked back the gun.

The rest of the group, displaying an alertness clearly lacking in their leader, quickly clambered out the window.

“Take your boss with you!” Rashi cried out after them, to no avail.

“Those guys were really bad at their job,” she said.

“Rashi, you must believe me about Verma…” Rahul tried again.

“I couldn’t care less about Verma,” Rashi stopped him mid-sentence.

“She is done,” The Maker announced as he walked onto the erstwhile battle scene.

He held up the finished product such that the tube-light glinted off its shiny edges.

“A thing of beauty. As usual,” he remarked, clearly satisfied.

Rahul snatched it out of his hands and added it to the contents of Rashi’s airtight container.

“Number thirty-one. We’re done,” Rashi said.

Rahul looked at his watch. “Fifty minutes to midnight. Let’s go.”

“Wait…what should we do with Picasso here?” Rashi asked.

Rahul thought for a bit, and replied, “Kill him.”

The Maker, petrified, took a step back.

Rashi looked quizzically at Rahul.

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding. You should have seen the look on your face!” he laughed.

Rashi rolled her eyes. The Maker tried to stop hyperventilating.

“Let him be. He won’t call the police. He knows better than to mess with The Boss’ people.” Rahul said.

“He does, doesn’t he?” Rashi looked at The Maker. The Maker nodded between gasps of breath.

“And what about Sharmaji here?” Rashi pointed to the limp figure on the floor.

“Ugh. I guess we’ll have to take him with us. I think I saw a dumpster around the corner.”

“All right then. Pick a side and lift.”

***

The Lair had an air of celebration around it when Rahul and Rashi got there. Rahul spotted The Boss immediately. He was tough to miss, dressed in a crisp white suit – the staple of mafia bosses and fashion-challenged youths through the ages. Rahul went up to him and greeted him with perfectly executed pecks on the cheeks that would have made the author of The Dummy’s Guide to Mafia Etiquette proud. Rashi was too low in the organizational hierarchy chain to act as if she existed and decided to stand behind Rahul while resolutely staring at her feet.

“Aren’t you early? I thought The Secretary would have called you in a bit later,” The Boss said, surprised.

Rahul dramatically took out the container from Rashi’s backpack and held it up to The Boss.

“Tell me that’s not The Loot, Rahul,” he said, his mafia boss sense tingling.

Rahul shrugged.

“Damn it, Rahul. You know I had assigned this to Sharma.”

“I’m sorry for disobeying you. But this was the first time that you’ve ever asked Sharma to lead an important job instead of me. I may be getting older, but I’m still better than Sharma. I had to prove to you that I could beat him to it.”

The Boss let out a disappointed sigh before raising his hands to get the attention of The Secretary. She seemed to be in panic mode.

She came over when she saw the wave and began, “Neither Sharma nor Rahul is picking up my call. I don’t know what…” she stopped when she spotted Rahul and Rashi.

“Why aren’t you picking up my calls?” she asked Rahul, agitation writ on her thin, pointed eyebrows.

“I was…uh…a bit busy,” Rahul replied.

“Yes, he was busy getting us The Loot,” The Boss interjected, making no attempt to hide the exasperation in his voice, and handed over the container to her.

The Secretary took The Loot and inspected its contents. It caused her to stretch her already furrowed brows to the limit.

“What happened to Sharma?” she asked.

“Nothing permanent,” Rahul replied, with as much nonchalance as he could manage at the moment.

The Secretary shrugged her shoulders and walked away with The Loot.

“Wait here and don’t move,” the Boss gave the two of them a curt order and walked away in The Secretary’s direction.

Rahul and Rashi suddenly became very aware of the fact that The Lair was now empty. The gang hovering around them had disappeared at some point during their conversation.

“Should we be panicking right now?” asked Rashi. She had been watching the proceedings from afar and quietly evaluating alternative professions.

“Probably…”

The lights in The Lair turned off, plunging the entire place into darkness.

Rashi clutched Rahul’s trembling hand.

“Shhh…” Rahul shushed her, trying to listen, his ears sifting through the silence for danger.

Rashi reached for her phone in her bag in order to use its backlight.

“Don’t,” Rahul whispered. ”The darkness is a disadvantage for them too.”

“Them?”

“Yes. We’re surrounded. And they’re slowly closing in.” Rahul’s instinct honed by years of training which included playing dark-room with his cousins in his ancestral home, had notified him of the tip-toeing figures that had probably encircled them by now. He searched his lint lined pockets for something that could be used as a weapon. Rashi took out the pocket knife she always kept in her socks for emergencies.

The figures came closer.

The lights flickered back on. Rashi picked a direction randomly and flung her knife. An explosion reverberated through the air. Someone screamed.

“SURPRISE!!!” The figures yelled in unison.

The Boss led the cheer from the front. The Secretary appeared startled, one of the balloons in her hand had just exploded. She shrugged it off and joined the shrill rendition of ‘Happy Birthday dear Rahul’. No one noticed the knife sticking out of the wall behind her.

Rahul looked at his watch. It was midnight.

The Boss walked him to the table where The Loot was spread out waiting for him.

“There you go. Thirty-one cupcakes and thirty-one candles. Make a wish and blow out the candles.”

Rashi had snuck out in the meantime and removed the evidence of her heroics from the wall.

She looked towards the table as Rahul paused to make a wish.

“Why cupcakes?” she asked the goon standing next to her.

“Cakes are for sissies. And besides The Boss hates them,” he replied.

“Of course,” Rashi joined in the chorus.

Rahul looked at the offending thirty-first cupcake that had ruined his day.

“I’ve only turned thirty – why did we need thirty-one cupcakes?” he asked the Boss.

“Isn’t it obvious? The last one’s for good luck.”

“Of course,” Rahul let out a tired smile, before proceeding to blow out the candles.

 

Two men in a pub(short story – part one)

It was a dark and stormy night. As it always is when these things happen.

Two figures sat uncomfortably in a pub. Their silhouettes clung on languidly, resulting in unusually dull sentences like this, especially for one that has silhouettes in them. Their eyes were glued to the huge screen which stood at one end of the establishment, screaming for everyone’s attention, often literally. Something was not right. And they could feel it.

Figure A suddenly stirred to life and tapped Figure B on the shoulder with a couple of quick, pointed, intent-filled jabs. Figure B, on his eighth pint, wasn’t prepared for the assault. Applying a superhuman strain on his faculties, he tried to focus on his assailant through his spectacles. His eyes argued frantically with each other about where they should look. They eventually settled on a mutually agreeable spot on Figure A’s nose, deftly avoiding the failed attempt at a mustache, which hung around in the vicinity. A micro-eternity later, as his thoughts finally flirted with coherence, he articulated them.

“Oye!” he said.

Figure A blinked back at him. Once. Twice.

“What’s with the brutality? That hurt, okay?” Figure B voiced his disapproval.

Figure A appeared disoriented by the question. Time stood still as his thoughts tried to infiltrate the resistance put up by the alcohol. Then he remembered.

“I know what’s wrong!” he announced.

“You do? Do tell.”

“It’s pretty simple, Bala. Elementary even. I know who the killer is. Quite obvious, really.”

Bala was quite impressed. He silently regretted not having recognized his companion’s glaringly above-average detective skills. He was about to express this to Figure A in no uncertain terms, when he had another moment of coherence.

“Karthik, I can’t be sure of course, but I wasn’t aware that we have a murder to solve.”

“We don’t?” asked Karthik, a little uncertainty trailing in his voice.

“I don’t think so. No. Not today.” Bala replied. A bit more sure of himself now.

“Oh.” Karthik said.

“Yup, I would have noticed if we did.” Bala raised his mug and drained the remaining liquid in one go. He was quite pleased with his astute powers of observation. No murders would go unnoticed past him tonight.

“A pity, I am pretty sure who’d have done it. If he had done it.” sulked Karthik.

“Always annoying, that. My sympathies…” He interrupted the conversation to order another round from a disinterested waiter for his friend and himself. Then added, “…but I’m afraid that this place has been relatively murder-free this evening.”

And of course, right at that moment, a large figure crashed onto their table from above, spilling his as well as the table’s contents all over the place.

“Aha!” cried Karthik. He knew a murder victim when he saw one.

“And I know who’s responsible!” he declared as he got up.

Bala recovered from the shock in time to see Karthik dramatically point his finger in the direction the entity had originated from.

“I give you, my evil twin.” Karthik said. Bala allowed his gaze to follow Karthik’s finger. A gasp escaped him.

There was no one there.

“There’s no one there.” said Bala. Nothing escaped him. Except the occasional shock-induced gasp, of course.

“Hardly surprising. He was always the nimble one.” Karthik said. He cursed his brother under his breath for having ruined his dramatic introduction.

Bala decided to withhold the skepticism. He had been working with Karthik at a detective agency for the last four years. He was well aware by now that Karthik’s crazy babble often led to unforeseen breakthroughs. He was shaken out of his thoughts by a sudden pull on his sleeve. The body that had just crashed their small party was trying to say something. Evidently, he hadn’t graduated to murder victim yet.

“It w-was h-he.” the body said. The shock of the fall seemed to have had an impact on his speech.

“Are you sure? I mean, who even has evil twins anymore?” asked Bala.

“Twins? No…this was…just one man…it was he…the guy who always comes here and orders…tea…I knew….there was something…suspicious about him…asked him who he was…next thing I know I’m…here…on this table…dying…am I dying?” the body said.

“Possibly. We should probably get an expert opinion though. Might be a good idea to get that knife sticking out of you looked at while we’re at it too.” Bala called the ambulance from his speed dial.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————–

“The medical reports just came in. The victim survived but isn’t completely out of danger yet. You will probably want to take a look at it.” said the receptionist as she handed a folder to Bala.

Bala thanked her and settled down in one of the waiting room chairs to read it. Karthik walked in with a couple of coffees and took the chair next to him.

“There coffee hasn’t improved since the last time we were here.” he complained as he gave one to Bala.

“We were here less than 24 hours ago.” Bala stirred the cup and took a sip. He cringed as the concoction slid down his tongue.

“We’re one of their most frequent customers. The least they can do is to take our feedback.”

“Just think of it as hangover medicine and gulp it down.”

“Hmm. Is that the report? Anything interesting?” Karthik asked.

“Nothing much. Just your standard run-of-the-mill stabbing in the chest. The wound isn’t too deep, nor is it anywhere near the heart. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be fatal.”

“Or maybe my brother was just in a hurry.”

“Will you stop with that nonsense already? There is no evidence whatsoever to support your bizarre evil twin theory. Where did he even come from? I didn’t know you had a sibling, let alone an evil one.”

“Well, it all started on that fateful day in 1980. It was a dark and stormy…” Karthik began.

“A quick summary will do.” Bala interrupted, quickly.”

“Mom had twins. Karthik and Karan. Karthik was the smart, intelligent, blue eyed boy who could do nothing wrong. Karan was the black sheep. Karan was jailed for stealing at age 16. Been in an out of prison since then. He sent me a letter a few days ago saying that he was going to kill someone in that pub today.” Karthik paused to crush the cup and throw it in the dustbin. “I hope that’s quick enough for you?” he asked.

The Novel Challenge – Chapter II

A huge thank you to everyone who took the trouble of reading the first chapter and contacted me to tell me how they felt about it! Furthermore, there haven’t been any casualties reported since I’ve posted it and incidents of eye-gouging seem to have been below the prescribed limit. So, with nervously intrepid feet – here comes the second chapter.

The Mission

“Send him in,” Goloxinout said to his secretary.

Goloxinout was in a cranky mood. Konnit’s elections were due in another millennium, which meant that he had been forced to do some actual work again. He had twenty meetings lined up in the day and wasn’t looking forward to any of them.“Good afternoon, Mr President.” the visitor said as he threw in a well practiced bow of courtesy.

“What is this about, Xylon?” Goloxinout gestured him to sit.

“We still haven’t been able to establish contact with General Wingo.”

“Ah yes, General Wingo…uh…where is he again?”

“It’s been a year minus five minutes since he set out on his mission to Earth.”

“Right, right. Th-aaat general Wingo. Of course. How does General Wingo like the place?”

“We don’t know. We lost contact with him as soon as he left our atmosphere.”

“Ah. Hate it when that happens. So you want me to name a day after him? General Wingo day? It kinda rolls off the tongue, you have to admit. Maybe a parade too..”

“All in good time Mr. President. But first, we must bring his mission to closure.”

Goloxinout groaned and braced himself. This was generally the point where Xylon gave him a long-winded ‘briefing’ and asked him to make a decision. Oh how he hated making decisions. He had become the president by religiously avoiding making them at every turn. They historically had a knack of coming back to bite him in the behind.

“General Wingo’s was no ordinary mission.” Xylon paused.

“Go on, I’m listening. What was it about?”

“Unfortunately, that’s almost all we really know about the mission.”

“All we know about the mission is that it wasn’t ordinary and that it involved General Wingo going to Earth?”

“You must understand that this mission was commissioned during the Wizium administration, Mr. President. Most of the relevant records were a casualty of the Great Digitizing Fiasco of last year.”

“The one where they shredded all the documents before scanning them?”

“That was the year before last, Mr. President.”

“Ah yes, this was the one with the Unicorn, the barrel of gunpowder and the firefly.”

“And the banjo,” added Xylon.

“Yes, the banjo. Of course,” Glouxinaut stifled a shudder before continuing, “But, I still don’t understand why we’re talking about this mission Xylon.”

“Well, there is one more thing that we’ve been able to find out. I’ve double-checked the information and there’s no doubt about its authenticity,” Xylon added.

“What’s that?”

“The only mission guideline that we could find, explicitly states that if Captain Wingo doesn’t return or contact us in another…” he looked at his watch and continued, “…ninety seconds, we are supposed to destroy Earth immediately.”

Their eyes darted to the clock on the desk simultaneously.

“Well, hold on a minute. Surely there must be someone who was part of the original mission’s planning committee who should be able to tell us what the mission is actually about?”

“They were all a casualty of the brutal military coup that immediately followed the Great Digitizing Fiasco.”

“The one that I led.”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

“Well, at least I guessed that one right,” Goloxinout said with a sheepish grin.

Their eyes darted back to the clock.

“It looks like he isn’t back in time, Mr. President,” Xylon said as the clock’s hands ticked over the dreaded mark with an air of nonchalance.

Goloxinout furrowed his only brow in deep thought. He liked to think of himself as a man of peace and wiping out an entire civilization always made him feel uneasy. On the other hand, if he acted quickly, he would be able to take a quick afternoon nap before the next meeting.

“Who can take care of this for us?”

“It sounds like a job for the Uranians.”

“Where do I sign?” Goloxinout asked.

“Here, there and there,” Xylon said as he pushed an official looking piece of paper towards him.

“One more thing, Mr. President.”

“There’s more?” asked an exasperated Goloxinout.

“The deadline for announcing the nominations for the Lifetime Award For Excellence In Galactic Science is almost upon us. I’ve scrutinized the contributions and careers of all our eminent scientists and one name stands out – that of Kintonx Goulin.”

“Nominate whoever you please Xylon. I couldn’t care less. Hang on…isn’t he the time machine guy?”

“He called it The Sinetransmorgodor – after his pet dinosaur, I’m told.”

“I’ve read about him. Did he ever remember how to make another one of those contraptions?   Anyone who lays their hands on one of those would have access to insurmountable power.”

“I’m afraid the memory loss caused by his journey to the future was quite permanent. He was only ever able to create one. And the whereabouts of that machine, despite extensive search operations that have been carried out in the last few centuries, are still unknown.”

What a pity, sighed Goloxinout, as he stared out into the mesmerizing view of the galaxy that his cabin afforded him. He could have used it to go back and cancel all those meetings. And there were those few years when he had tried to make it as ‘Golo –the mime who talked’ that kept cropping up in the press from time to time.

Yes, he told himself, he could definitely have found good use for the device.

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