Tears of Blood

What: Entry for Edition 8 of the Indian Fiction Workshop.

Plot Synopsis: There is a dilapidated old fort in a forest bordering an Indian village. The villagers believe that inside the fort is a chamber, locked shut by an ancient King, and guarded by spirits invoked and trapped inside the chamber by that king.

Unknowing of the folklore, two thieves who have escaped from a nearby prison take shelter in the fort. Thinking that there might be treasure inside, they break open the door.

Narrate the events up to and after this point, in FIRST PERSON POV of the thieves. You can choose to do it from POV of one thief, or alternating between the POVs of both.

Plot Credits: Jayashree Srivatsan

Judges: Leo, Jayashree, Rajrupa Gupta

Genre being explored: HORROR

My entry:

Tears of Blood

‘Hurry up, Raju! Run or those dogs will be upon us in minutes!’
I watched as Raju struggled to move with his pot belly impending him, wheezing and coughing on the way. I was a hundred meters ahead of him and before me stood the mighty trees of the Chiranjeevi forest. We were being chased by a group of policemen for escaping from prison and had just been able to lose them through some really quick thinking on my part. I knew they would never follow us into the forest, at least not at night. They were a bunch of superstitious fools who believed it to be haunted.  Well, haunted or not, it was the only place for us to escape from the jaws of prison life.
The forest was cold, dark and damp. The flashlights we were holding were of little use, scarcely illuminating the space around us, thick with foliage as it was. The sound of leaves crumpling below our feet hung in the night air like a lone beacon of light on a stranded shore. And I was afraid that it would attract the wrath of wild animals.
‘Raju, I believe we’ve made a grave mistake, we can’t spend the night in this place…it may be full of wild animals!’
He looked at me with a grim expression, before turning away and regarding the darkness, ‘There is a way, Shyam…I’ve been in this forest before and I know of an old fort, I’ve seen it as a child, I think I can lead us to it…we’ll be safe from the animals there…’
‘Alright, is it far?’, I asked him.
‘It is in a clearing at the heart of the forest. But it is our best chance’.
‘Hmm. Let’s go then’.
Raju nodded and studied our surroundings for five minutes before starting down a path…

It has been years since I’ve seen the fort of Rudrapratapa. It used to be our favorite spot for playing hide-and-seek as children, with its plethora of rooms of all shapes and sizes and the passages set out like a maze. One could easily get lost there. Our elders would often warn us against going to the fort. Apparently, it had been cursed by a witch. They would try and scare us with various stories but it never deterred our free, adventurous spirits.
‘Where is your god-damned fort Raju? I’m exhausted from all this trekking in the forest…’
‘Here, here; just beyond these trees…Can you make out the outline from here? Look there…’
And there it was, looking melancholy and desolate against the silver moonlight. All its past glory turned into just bricks and stones. How time ruins things! Not a sound to be heard except the chirping of the crickets. I could see an own perched atop a tree near its boundary wall. Its yellow eyes shone at us menacingly. I flinched.
‘How do we get in?’
‘Look for an opening in the wall…there should be a crevice wide enough to let us get in…’
‘Bats! Yikes!’, Shyam shouted, ducking and waving his arms around. Ah, the perils of spending a night in the wilderness. I thought we had had enough of crazy nights in the prison.
Fifteen minutes later, we are inside the fort. It’s much cooler than outside and we are shivering slightly. I feel uneasy, I have a feeling we’re not alone in this place. But then, the fort is huge enough to grant refuge to an army of hundreds.
‘Shyam, let us just find a nice spot and hide till the morning. I’m very tired.’
But Shyam would not pay any attention to me; he was like a man possessed! He ran from room to room, admiring the splendor of the place while the thief inside him looked for items to pick up.
‘A couple of rare antique items from this place, Raju, and we’ll be millionaires! Just think about it!’
‘Don’t be stupid! If there was anything of value here, it wouldn’t be laying open for scavengers like us!’
‘Hey! Look! Look here!’
Shyam turned my attention to a heavily ornamented door. It was studded with gems arranged in an intricate design. I couldn’t recall having seen anything like this here before.
‘I’m sure there’s something of value inside! But this big, fat lock! Do something about it, Raju, my mastermind!’
Wordlessly, I got down on my knees and examined the lock. It looked simple enough; just some careful ministrations with my master key and it would give away. Yet, my hands trembled as I inserted the key in the hole. It felt as if there was someone on the other side of the door, waiting to be set free…
‘Holy Cow! Look at the size of this room! And it’s loaded with stuff! We’ve hit the jackpot, my friend!’
The room was impressive! It was full of caskets and cupboards and drawers. The walls were adorned with paintings. There were desks, chairs and a huge bed. All made of expensive mahogany, I presumed. We were going to be rich! No more petty thievery for the rest of our lives! The only problem was, Raju wasn’t willing to share any of my enthusiasm. He was silent and subdued, transfixed to a spot near the door. Maybe, he’s scared, foraging in the dark like this. Hah! What a child!
‘Oi, come over here, you go and check out the other side of the room, I’ll look here…’
I looked on as Raju gingerly walked to an almirah, stumbling over a couple of caskets on his way.
I sigh and turn my attention towards a painting on the wall. The frame seems to be made of gold. It is a huge piece of art, a life-sized portrait of a reclining woman. I trace her figure with the light of my torch. She’s draped in a blood red saree, snugly fitted to her voluptuous figure, curly black tresses, full lips, pierced nose, eyes…eyes? I froze in shock as I realized that her eyes were missing! Their place was marked by two blotches of red, as if the eyes had been slashed off. What a weird painting! Those kings must have been crazy!
‘Shyam…’ somebody whispers.
‘What, Raju?’ I turned to speak, but he wasn’t there. ‘Raju?’ I swung around to the other side but there was no one. I turned back to the painting and was immersed in complete darkness. The batteries had died. Shit. Okay, calm down, just walk towards the entrance. There was a still a glimmer of moonlight coming through. I could just focus on it and it would guide me to the door. I start walking, carefully. I realized that I was sweating. The darkness that surrounded me was oppressive. It felt like it was suffocating me. Somehow, I could not get the image of that blood stained face out of my mind.
People say that when you are deprived of the use of one or more senses, the other remaining ones become sharper. Standing in this room with only a dim source of illumination, I became aware of my surroundings in a most unique manner. I observed the smells and the variations of temperature. My mind was just not burglary today. I felt myself being drawn to a cold corner that smelled, quite unmistakably, of blood. The metallic, nauseating smell of congealed human blood. Could somebody have dumped a dead body here? I wonder as I walk towards the source of the odor. I'm very close to the spot, the smell is so strong that it makes me want to throw up. The air surrounding me is perfectly still and chilly. I can feel goosebumps on my flesh. Footsteps! I hear footsteps. Thud thud thud thud thud. A dull, rhythmic motion. We are not alone here. Someone is coming to get me. Maybe its the murderer! What should I do? I take a confused step forward and feel my foot strike against something coarse and ice-cold. I freeze. Oh my god, its flesh! It’s human flesh! 'Shyaaam! SHYAAM! Where are you? Get the fuck here immediately!' Trembling, I move my flashlight to get a look at the body but there is nothing there. I glance around, move back and forth but there's no sign of a body. Cold fear grips my spine and I turn away, ready to run just as a hand shoots out of nowhere and grabs my foot. 'SHYAAM!!Help me! SHYAAMMM!'. I can feel its rugged claws biting into my skin. I can't free myself from its grip. I scream as another hand grabs the other foot, completely immobilizing me. It’s dragging me towards itself.  
Suddenly, I receive a slap to my face and the hands that gripped my feet disappear.
'What on earth is wrong with you Raju? You're screaming like a madman!'
'Oh Shyam! Thank god you are here! Lets get out of here. I beg you. Please, let’s just go.'
'Why? Why should we go?'
'Because this place is haunted Shyam! There is a ghost here! I felt it! It was gripping me! I couldn't move! It was gripping my feet! Both my feet!'
'What nonsense, Raju! There is no such thing as ghosts! You must have been dreaming! Now give me your flashlight and let us see what is there to take!'
I had never felt so angry with Shyam before. How could he disregard my opinions this way? Does he take me to be a fool? I fumed.
'Shyam, I want to go. You have no right to talk to me in this manner. What do you think of yourself? '
'Raju, please just calm down. There are no ghosts here, its just your mind playing tricks.'
I could not understand why Raju was being so irrational. Sure, the place is scary, but then, any place would be so in the darkness. And ghosts? He couldn't be this foolish. And then it struck me! Raju is playing a game with me. He wants me out of here so that all the goods can be his! That old fox! I knew I could never trust a man like him!
'Shyam, will you listen to me?!' Raju shouted, grabbing my arm.
'No, you listen to me, Raju! You leave if you want to! I'm not moving!'. I pushed him away.
'I will not leave you alone to die and you will listen to me!', he was grabbing me again.
'Is that what it is, huh? I can see right through your stupid plans, Raju. You want all the riches to yourself and so you're inventing all this nonsense! You can easily trace this place in the morning and can come conveniently to claim the stuff for yourself!'  It was my turn to grab him by the collar.
'How dare you! You insolent, greedy man! How dare you!' His knee meets my stomach and I double up in pain. My hands immediately fly to his neck. I wanted to squeeze the air out of the slimy bastard but he had his hands on my arms, restraining me. Damn, he was strong. I fly into a rage and attack his face with my hands. I dig my nails in his eyeballs and scratch; I scratch and claw at them till I can feel his blood dripping down my fingers. He had started howling. Haha! No one messes with me! I step back to let him moan in agony. Before I knew it, he came charging at me like a bull, head first, right into my gut. I stumble backwards with the force of the blow and fall, from the feel of it, in an open casket. I grab the sides and try to get up but this monster placed the lid over me. I could barely move my arms but used all my strength to beat against the top. It would not budge. It was too heavy. I'm going to die here. God please. I don't want to die. I was beating on the lid with everything I had. My breath came in gasps and shudders. I was using whatever air there was in my lungs to shout to Raju to open this thing. But it just wouldn't move. Darkness, the darkness is coming to get me. It has won. I could hear the mad laughter of a woman and I knew it is her.
The pain in my eyes is unbearable. I am bleeding tears of blood. I could barely move so I settled myself on the casket. Beneath me I could still hear the mad screams and knocks of Shyam, asking me to let him out. I ignored them. He could die there and be eaten up by rats and rot in hell forever as far as I was concerned. How could he do this to me? He is a sick man! My eyes! Oh my eyes! I sit there nursing my precious eyes, blood all over my face. I try opening them as the pain subsides but can hardly see anything. Everything is red. I weep more tears.

And then I see her. An apparition, a ghost, a ghoul, a witch or a goddess. I do not know what she is. Skin a sickly green color; she is standing in front of me, wearing a red saree over an emaciated frame. She smells of rotting flesh and blood.  Her hair hangs down loose over her bosom and her face is as bloodshot as mine. But the most horrific part, she had had her eyes gouged out! And in spite of it all, she bared her bloody teeth at me and laughed. I had never seen or heard anything this horrible and vindictive. Her laughter shredded my soul in pieces and suddenly I wish I hadn't ever hurt Shyam. She kneels forward and grabs both my feet with her claw like hands, pulling me down slowly from the casket. Despite her skeletal frame, she is stronger than me. I fall on my back and my head hits against the edge of the casket. I feel dizzy and light-headed.  I didn't have the power to scream or struggle, fear had stupefied me. I just stare at her terrible form, waiting for the torture that I knew was coming but she just laughed and laughed. Her voice echoed and the walls laughed with her. I could not take it any more and let myself drift away into oblivion...

A farewell

'The Last Convertible' by Anton Myrer.
It's rather strange that I should find this book to read at this time in my life. It isn't a pre-meditated attempt to lend some meaning or poetic backdrop to this phase, all I needed was a book to help me with my vocabulary and sentence building for the GRE test next week. I went to my room looking for something non-fictional and resplendent in critical thinking like Dawkins or Freud but when I spotted the red hardbound, slightly torn cover of this book, I knew I had to take it out, if only to sniff the yellowing pages and smile at my favorite passages.
I've read this book before, one and a half times, I think, back when I was in school. Back when we were in school. It was the beginning of an end then. It is an end today. That was the winter of dreams, the fervent excitement of the endless opportunities awaiting gripped us into a state of perpetual hopefulness. Anything could happen. We were at the threshold. We knew that when we met each other again, whenever that might be, everything would have changed. But the thought wasn't scary. I don't know why. Maybe it was the eagerness to explore...to experience change...
Optimism keeps you happy.

Today, everything has changed. This goodbye is different. The eagerness has been replaced by a weird kind of wariness. It is because we know, for sure, that anything is, in fact, possible and things do have a way of changing, forever. With this wisdom comes the realization that we have, unmistakably and irrefutably, grown up. This is the end of student life as we know it. It is time for realism to replace optimism.
I must admit it scares me sometimes, when I think about it, about myself, about all of us, as adults, out on our own, for as long as we can go on. The safety net has been withdrawn. But where there is fear, there is also a source of courage and we have seen and learnt enough. We are equipped.

The saddest part, of course, are memories. Not their content, but the fact that they just can't be made again. Not in the same way.

A convertible is a car which has a top that can be removed or folded. They were popular more than a century back. The book talks about one emerald green beauty, 'The Empress', as they called it. There were four young men from Harvard. There were girls. There were stories. And memories. Memories etched in every crease of the car's metal, every cut of the seat's leather. There; a cigarette burn, there; a stubborn stain- all with their histories. And then, before they could make any sense of what was happening, they were out on the field, a part of the second world war. From boys to soldiers to men. The girls waited and prayed and became women. Youth ended and life moved on.

It's funny that I picked this book up. It's almost like I want the emotions that this goodbye can conjure to overwhelm me. We've been prepared for the end. We made plans for it.     We anticipated it. Heck, we'd even wished it'd happen sooner just so we could get on with our lives and get some respite from the messy hostel rooms. Yet we clung on to every passing moment, counting the lasts. The last exam, the last viva, the last altercation with the staff, the last friendly chat with the lab assistant, the last request to the hostel attendant, the last joke with the guy at the canteen counter, the last bag to be packed and boarded on to the car waiting downstairs, the last hug, the last glance back...
It is the end.
There are regrets: things left unsaid and roads left not traversed, but none of it matters now.
It is the end.
It is also the beginning. Of the rest of our lives on the paths we've carved out, with the people we've chosen and the beliefs we've adopted.

There is one sentence that has been resonating in my head ever since I started on the journey back home...
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times'.

I think it's a perfect description.