An Untitled Sci-Fi Story

It’s been sand-storming for ages now. Well not ages exactly, more like two to three earth days. But that counts for a lot here. Anyways, I’m tired of the sky raining dust particles at us. I want to set my foot outside of this capsule for a while, even though there is not much to do here, I do enjoy the occasional wandering about. In fancy terms, it’s called taking a promenade. There aren’t any walkways here so you just walk about on the dust, at least you get to stretch your legs. I don’t know what my next assignment is but I’ve a folder here full of papers which I haven’t bothered to go through yet. The dust storm has slowed us down considerably so I’m guessing we have plenty of time till we reach wherever it is we have to be. I’m also guessing, and this is a wild guess, that these boys are part of the assignment too. Why else would we all be stuffed in a small capsule, and sent off on urgent notice? They usually hold off long expeditions till the storms settle down. Pretty much like back on Earth when Pa would happily arrange for a day at the beach and Ma would get busy in the kitchen making sandwiches, and Pa would come downstairs in some ridiculous outfit as I helped Ma put all the food supplies in the picnic basket and she’d laugh at him for looking absurd to which he would give his signature grin – ear to ear smile, showing the greasy front teeth, and then we’d be interrupted by a loud howl from upstairs followed by peals of thunder and lightning and we’d run to the kitchen window overlooking the street and Pa would sigh and put his heavy hand on my shoulder and tell us we’d better watch something on the telly till the storm clears and the storm would sometimes clear but by then it’d be evening and what’s the point of going to the beach in the dark, Pa would say, so Ma would set a table outside in the lawn and we’d finish off the contents of the picnic basket before the moon came up.

It’s getting more darker and brown and everything has a sour, metallic smell. Even the air inside the capsule tastes like sand grains and it really annoys me. But a good thing is that as I’m the Captain, I have my own seat up front, that’s right behind the Power Driver. I think the other fellas are just cramped up, maybe two in one seat, maybe some are scrambled right across the floor. But I can’t think about that right now. I need to stretch my legs and there just isn’t enough space. I could take a short walk across the capsule but I might end up trampling someone and I really don’t want to be reported. They say it isn’t pretty where they take you if you are reported. I’ve heard a couple of rumors of some burly guys, roughing you up and throwing you in a pit full of dense smog they accumulated years ago from Earth, and if you aren’t strong enough, you just choke yourself to death or suffocate till the medics arrive and I’ve heard more about the former than the latter. So I will just stay put, maybe soon enough we can make a short stop somewhere. Pa always said that patience was the most rewarding of all values, he’d always say that and he was clever enough to quote some book on it and whenever we had a family dinner, and Ma would be getting late with setting the table and someone would be foolish enough to lightly complain about the dinner getting late, that’d be Pa’s ticket to getting into a conversation about the virtues of patience and after the table was set and we’d all eaten, Pa would reach out for a toothpick and announce the reward for patience that we had all been blessed with in form of food and how excellent it would be if we could all do this often. Pa was very patient the day he was assigned to go back to Earth, to check for survivors and report back and I remember him boarding a capsule very similar to this one, with five other men, and I now sometimes wonder how patient he must have been when he was reported missing along with four others by one of his crew members on the tenth or eleventh earth day and he’d come back without him and four others.

“Where’s you from?” I hear a gruff voice aimed at me. I can’t see the fella’s face because it is dark and everyone looks the same in the shadows but I assumed the boy was sitting somewhere close to me.

“Quarter-C,” I reply dully. I’m not interested in striking up a conversation but it wouldn’t be too bad if I wasn’t made to talk much. I might as well pass the time evaluating which fella is up for which task from my folder, which by the way I still haven’t opened.

“I’m from X-253,” he says.

“Oh in the Capsule Station?”

“No, not in the Station, next to it. E’rrybody thinks it’s in it but is not.”

I can hear pellets of sand hit the roof above my head and it really annoys me. By the looks of it, the storm won’t be tiring out any time soon.

“Err been down to the Water Precinct Cap’n?” The 253er had come closer to me and I could see his grim face through barricaded lights that had somehow made their way through the thick blanket of dust outside. His eyes were dull and there were dirt marks all over his scaly face. Somehow he reminded me of dead fish but here in this capsule everyone looked the same and smelled the same. I replied that I hadn’t. I had lied through my teeth but this fella won’t catch me anytime soon. He looked dumber than anyone I had ever seen. He nudged another young man to come nearer to where I was sitting and the latter looked no better than the 253er. I surmised they must be no younger than twenty-eight.

“We was stationed there for some time,” the 253er who lived next to the Capsule Station and not in it said.

“Tell ‘im guy.” He nudged his partner again.

“Ya Cap’n we lived there fo’ time, you haven’t seen the dandiest sight there yet.”

Of course I had, but I was going to humor these kids for now, you know, to pass the time. It’d make it easy to forget my knees for a while.

“We was assigned to same chamber an’ oh boy it was attached to those latrines like back on Earth and we’d get water thee fo times a day.”

“Not a day would go by when we wasn’t clean as pipe…”

“…an’ Cap’n we smelt good too,” 253er retorted and both him and his guy stifled their laugh.

The sand and dust continued to pour from the skies and I fidgeted more and more with the folder on my lap. I had missed my call for breakfast before departing on this damning trip, and my growling insides weren’t helping. The 253er and his guy had gone back to their seats or to the floor, I hadn’t bothered asking them or checking for myself. Water Precinct was where I was assigned when Pa left and then ten, eleven Earth days later I saw his name on Missing in Action list but I couldn’t complain or question anyone because no one had any answers, and I didn’t want to be reported, and no one was related to anyone on this dusty, muddy, sandy planet, we had left all our bonds and relations back on earth and here we were either First Captains, Second Captains, or Comrades, or Commander-in-Chains, or Duty Boys – Third Grade or Duty Boys – Fourth Grade and the grades went all the way to four hundred and twenty three and no more because there wasn’t enough manpower beyond four hundred and twenty three to be assigned four hundred and twenty four. Back on Earth, Ma was still Ma when she died and we had to bury her on a rainy day, and she was still Ma when Pa would take me to her grave and ask me to talk to her as if she could hear me but I was no kid then, and it sounded stupid to me but I couldn’t say no to Pa, we were alone, and he only had me, and I only him and we had only each other now so Ma was still Ma.

I know the Higher-Ups lied when they told all us Captains of Quarter-C that our water rations be cut by half, they lied through their teeth just like I lied to these two fellas, and I had to exercise Pa’s patience then, I knew the truth, water was plenty for us all, I had been to Water Precinct twice since Pa had been reported missing, and I also knew the Higher-Ups were lying about Pa because Pa could never go missing, he was the least missing person on this planet or back home on Earth. Ma missed my final school day because she was having a brother for me, but Pa came even though he had to leave soon because of an emergency but he came, and then at my graduation Pa was there even though he was suffering from a bout of illness, and when we were recruited he came and was not missing and he told me he’d meet me here on this forsaken brown, dusty planet, and when I reached here, Pa was here too – not missing but here, he welcomed me from far away because he wasn’t Pa anymore, he was given a title that I never found out but that is how I was to approach him but I never got the chance because Pa was assigned to go back and then he went missing. How can someone who has never gone missing, go missing?

My legs were feeling queasy by then so I decided to distract myself by looking over the contents of the folder. I felt that the capsule has slowed down considerably to the point of stopping altogether and I wondered if we hadn’t moved at all the whole while. After all the capsules aren’t meant to travel during storms but they made ours do it and maybe we were now stuck in Gray Plains, they were called so even though they were red because for miles and miles there was no structure around and the Higher-Ups used this field only for experimentation which we were then to record from our office chambers, measure, evaluate and report. I was mostly assigned as Second or Third Field Captain, never the first because I wasn’t physically fit, owing to my knee and I mostly travelled alone so then this capsule was sufficient for me but this time they had stuffed it with some Duty Boys who smelled of fish and talked about water in their young and fanciful ways.

“Cap’n you know where we to?” 253er’s guy was back. I knew his question was addressed to me but I decided to ignore him. Someone from the back of the capsule repeated the question and a silence fell over the capsule, silence only interrupted by the dust swooshing outside with more might than ever. I could faintly see all heads turned towards where I was sitting. I counted some five heads, all which looked alike and smelled alike and now even asked the same question. I still hadn’t opened the folder containing the task assignment but I couldn’t stay silent for long.

“I’m the Launcher, Cap’n are we gon’ launch some ship or sumfin?” I recognized this voice, he had been at the Quarter-C many times.
“Em hopin’ to launch some shoo’ers Cap’n been while since we done done it.”

“Naah I hope we goin to get some crummies,” came another voice from the floor confirming my doubt that some kid was sprawling on the damp, cold, brazen floor. When I had left Earth, I was that kid too and boy was it lonely down there, I had been prepared for the Shift for quite some time, all of us had, but when it happened, when it actually happened it felt raw and dangerous and we were all petrified and I knew some guy in my capsule who completely broke down so they had to put him in lockdown lest he scare other Shifters too. And Pa had said that he’d meet me here so in the back of my head I was consoled by that thought but I couldn’t call him Pa. That journey was longer than any of the journeys we had ever took on Earth even when Pa took me to the Western States on his car that squeaked every time we took a turn and on which I learnt for the first time how to replace a tire. But then the Blight came and Ma died and later Pa got sick but he made it because he would never go missing and the governments started recruiting those who survived the Blight to become the First Shifters and then the day of the Shift came and the capsule was full to the brim so I had to take up the floor along with some documents and because my legs are always too tall for my body I spread them until some dumb guy tripped over my knee.

He was a daft kid and all these Duty Boys are just as dim-witted, talking about water and food and firing shooters like they are on a vacation. You can’t expect much from a bunch of young boys who all looked like one another under the dusty light and smelled of dead fish and had dirt marks all over their faces. The Launcher came up to me and I saw the same raw dullness in his eyes that I had seen in the eyes of the 253er and his guy. His look was vacant and his eyes did not seem to correspond to what he was saying as if they had a mind of their own.

“Cap’n whas am I to do?” His voice was recognizably nasal and that’s how I had known that he had been to Quarter-C many times. All Launchers voices had nasal intonation because they spent too much time outside of the capsules and chambers. If he was any closer to me I might have smelled dust on his tongue.

“I just have to go through this file and I will let you know.” I felt all ears on me but that reply was satisfactory enough for all the Duty-Boys to resume whatever they were doing. The Launcher went back and I was once again left alone with the darned folder. I opened it and the title “Operation Thetan-V” blasted in my face through the first page. I borrowed a light-pen from 253er’s guy and went through the contents of the file as the storm blazed outside with more ferocity than I could remember. I couldn’t tell if the capsule had come to a complete stand still or if we were moving at an extremely slow speed. The Power Driver was coded to only communicate with the Commander-in-Chains and since none had been assigned on this journey, I or rather we all were at the mercy of Father Time and the sand storm and the Power Driver of course. From the Operation map I deduced that we were probably, maybe, actually definitely in the Gray Plains, the one where the Higher-Ups would conduct experimentations and that our destination was marked at Quadrant Celesta which was the farthest point up North and I had often heard of Quadrant Celesta but never been there nor did I know what kind of operations were carried out there. Maybe they were setting up the greens but that was an old plan since nothing green could sprout from the red dirt beneath our shoes; or maybe they inducted the new recruits, and trained them, starting off with the Pledge of the Shift which basically renounced all earthly relations, where the newcomers avowed for survival and homeliness and Collective Progress as it was officially known, and were then assigned to their respective titles. But why would I need to take a bunch of Duty-Boys back?

I heard the 253er shuffle closer again so I closed the file.

“Cap’n you ever been to them water-worlds?” I replied that I had not, and this time I was telling the truth. The 253er seemed to believe me and kept chattering on, more to himself than for my benefit.

“Cap’n I heard we was to haul one closer one day…”

The 253er’s guy rejoined in a huddle around me.

“Ya Cap’n, when we was stationed at Water Precinct we heard ’em Higher-Ups talk about it all the time.”

“Them says water-worlds jus got water and no dust.”

“And some says they got greens too cuz where is water there is greens too but no dust.”

“Ya no dust.”

“That’s scientifically impossible…” I interrupted both of them. A certain sadness seemed to dawn on their already long, dull faces. I could sense the excitement of a useless conversation draining away. These boys were dumb, talking on and on about things here and there but I felt guilty nonetheless. Everyone here was tired of the dust. All Shifters were, except the Higher-Ups maybe because they never left the Water Precinct which was of the highest order of all Precincts. Fantasy has no time here, we were always working towards the Collective Progress and survival to make this new abode a home but I felt guilty for throwing away the one thing these two silly Duty-Boys had in common. They went back to their respective seats or floor in the capsule and I was partially grateful for that. I was not in the position to apologies for my interruption, after all it was rational and I felt guilty only to have been the source of unpleasantness. The confined capsule was boring on my nerves now and I was still uncomfortable in my legs. Meanwhile the storm raged outside and the Duty-Boys had all resumed their chatter, I thought about the missed breakfast and how I longed to be back in my chambers once I had completed the task at hand, to stretch my legs, have some food and get some Rest Time. I recall getting tireless every night, aching to go back home to Pa and Ma during long college days and also when the training for Shifters began on Earth but by then Ma was six feet under ground and Pa and I were being inducted as Individual Survivors which was the first step in letting go off relations and the training continued till Pa was no longer Pa and I was aboard the capsule, off to this dirt hole, but Ma was always Ma and will be Ma because that’s how we had buried her.

I opened the file once again, went through the map detailing our journey, again deduced that we were most certainly stuck in the Gray Plains and decided to skim through the pages. Somewhere it said the Thetan Operations were vital to the Collective Progress of the community and at another page it said something about a “cleanse” which I recalled had to do with harnessing energy off moonlight which was our primary energy source, for now that is. Unless of course we hauled one of those “water-worlds” the 253er had so passionately talked about. I chuckled to myself at that and resumed reading ahead. I knew cleansing operations needed a Detectorist or two, one of those heavy set guys who ensured the completion of every task, were given special keys to go about chambers and capsules without authorization and if I had known any better, they also knew how to decode Power Drivers. What exactly was there job nobody seemed to know except that you could spot a Detectorist from a mile away owing to his bulky physique which made them look almost non-human. I saw one or two around the time when Pa went missing but it was a common sight at the Water Precinct, I guess there secret role was that of Protectors which was never assigned back on Earth even though everybody talked about getting into Protection and eventually everyone forgot about it here. So if we were going on a cleansing task, they must have assigned a Detectorist even though why they didn’t appoint a Commander-in-Chain, who would have been much more of a help.

“Anyone here a Detectorist?” I inquired in a loud voice and a silence once again fell over the entire capsule. They had all turned their heads towards me and I couldn’t make out who was who since everyone looked the same in the crimson light as the dust and sand continued to punch us from all sides.

“Not me Cap’n, I’m a Duty-Boy, Seventeenth Grade.”

“I’m Duty-Boy, Twenty-Fifth Grade goin’ up to Twenty-Four soon sir.”

“Launcher here Cap’n though I wouldn’ mind musclin’ up.”

“Summer-Blinker ‘ere sir but I go meself suspended fir actin up stupid.” The fourth voice came somewhere from the floor, maybe the same kid who had wished we were off to get Crummies as if the Higher-Ups would assemble a team of men only to acquire food, that too on such a storm-stricken day.

“Thas weird,” came a new voice somewhere from the dark corners of the capsule that my eye hadn’t bothered navigating, even though I had counted his head earlier on.

“What is?” I inquired, looking at the direction of the voice but seeing no particular outline of a person.

“The Blinky boy got suspended so did I.”

“Me and ‘im ‘ere wuz suspended too tell ’em guy…”

“Neh we was striked off once…”

“We still got two mo’ so we good.” the 253er who lived beside Capsule Station and not in it spoke with the same excitement he had when talking about the damned water-worlds.

“What do you do?” I interrupted once again, hoping the wise-guy at the end knew it was meant for him.

“Detectorist, was one.”

I quickly began shuffling through the contents of the file.

“Wha strikes?” the Launcher questioned, assuming the others would answer him but they all waited on me with their stupid faces.

“Umm, I dunno, never heard of them…” I had forgotten which page I was last skimming through. Something about moonlight energy.

“Cap’n you ain’t heard of strikes?”

“Errbody heard of ’em sir, ain’t you lot givin em out?”

What? No. I had never heard of one strike or three for that matter and I had never been asked to give them out. I was mostly the Field Captain, Second or Third, analyzing experiments and sending reports to the Higher-Ups. These fellas were surely out of their minds, nobody had ever said anything about strikes.

“Fir offence sir,” the 253er’s guy said in a matter-of-factly tone as if it was known to everybody except me. What were these guys talking about? Nobody got a first or second offence. You were directly reported the first time and sent off to punishment where some guys would throw you in a pit of…

“First offence, an’ the second, an’ then third after which you done fo’ good.”

NO NO NO! They had it all wrong, here your first mistake would be the last one, and you’d be reported directly and be sent away, that’s what we were all told, and that’s why I never reported the kid who roughed up my knee and never asked no questions about Pa. I shuffled through the pages till I came to the one titled “Missing in Action” and my heart stopped, so did my hands and I paid no attention to what a bunch of simple-minded Duty-Boys said or thought, and the sand continued to pelt overhead with might and before me lay a list of names next to numbered bullets with the last five names highlighted in red. Nauss, Somme, Bob, Kimley and Speirre.

“We call em Reds, us Launchers,” the Launcher who wanted to fire some shooters said. So it was either strikes or reds or reports but I never heard of strikes nor reds. “Last week I done shootin some ship wrong, so they give me a Red, I was done frighten…”

“So we all offenders holed up in ‘ere, Cap’n?” I know the question was directed at me, coming off from the distant corner, the Detectorist still hadn’t made himself noticeable.

But before I could answer, the Summer-Blinker interrupted to my relief.

“Whas you in here fo mister?”

I continued looking at the highlighted names. Mine wasn’t in it.

“I refuse to do somebuddys dirdy work.” So the Detectorist had refused to obey orders and that was definitely something that must have been reported.

Was Pa’s name here? The pen’s light was fading, my knee had started bothering me again and I could once again smell the dead fish strongly in the capsule.

“I ain’t got crummy for days pal,” the Summer-Blinker announced. “I asked for mo crummy and they suspended me, I done stupid too.”

Summer-Blinkers were Duty-Boys assigned on solar projects and nothing could go wrong there since all they had to do was report on the sun. And how could someone commit an offence on noting the Sun that came out daily and shone from the thick blanket of haze, I mean all you had to do was note down the time it rose and the time it set. Only someone really stupid could have committed a mistake there. So here I had two Duty-Boys, one Launcher, one Summer-Blinker and one Detectorist, all of whom had done a wrong one way or another, all of whom looked like the other and smelled like the other.

“So why we all here sir Cap’n, whas you done wrong?”

I looked up and through the dusty red light I could see all heads turned my way again. I was puzzled over the Missing in Action list and what it was doing in the file handed over to me by one of my supervisors. I hadn’t searched for Pa’s name yet, and I was having trouble putting two and two together which for some reason made five, but that wasn’t right now was it? My name wasn’t in the list and there were five names highlighted in red and I couldn’t recall having done anything wrong. Like the time when the neighbors accused me of having broken their garden pots and when Ma and Pa asked me I couldn’t…

“Cap’n you a’ight?” The Detectorist had finally come in view. He stood in the midst of the capsule, a few feet away from me but I could smell his dusty breath from far off. I suddenly became aware that I was sweating profusely, became aware of the raging storm outside the metal capsule, the dust and sand that hit us all with ferocity isolating us in a cubicle small enough for one person save six amidst the Gray Plains from my recent conjecture and that five of six of us had gotten reported, directly, indiscriminately and certainly.

The five stupid boys had huddled around me again and I felt a surge of emotion as if I was nearing a harsh reality that would hit me harder than if the capsule collapsed and I was buried under feet and feet of dust and soil and sand.

“Whea we off to sir?”

“You still ain’t assign us jobs Cap’n.”

“Whas the task file say?”

I thought of Pa and how he had boarded a capsule similar to this one along with five other men but he was no Captain, he was no First Captain or Second Captain or Third Captain or Field Captain of any degree. Pa was Pa just as Ma was Ma but he was no Pa here so I never knew what his title was. Pa was a broad-shouldered guy with strong muscles and an ear-to-ear grin which showed off his greasy but perfect teeth and when Pa hugged me after Ma died, I felt safe, and when Pa hugged me again at my graduation, I felt safe. I didn’t want to find Pa’s name on here but I wanted to confirm the fate of the five fellas who craned over me like shadows and now except the Detectorist who still looked stupid and huge, I began to see differences in the four pairs of eyes. Their faces became more detailed, I ignored the dirt marks on 253er and on his guy’s face, the Launcher seemed like a steady kid, the Blinker looked confused.

“Whas the matter Cap’n?”

I didn’t know who asked me the question. It didn’t matter who did or maybe it did.

“Which one of you is Somme?” I knew my voice was shaky, I was sweating and perplexed. I wanted time to stop just like the capsule had.

“Thas me sir,” the Blinker lad said.

“And…Kimley?”

“Aye Cap’n.” The Launcher was Kimley.

“Bob?”

“Me, Bob.”

Before I could ask again the 253er intervened.

“You Bob the Detectorist?”

“Yea!”

The 253er and his guy quickly went towards him in the same excitement that was present in their water-world conversation.

“You Bob the Detectorist really?”

“Yea!”

“Cap’n you knows him went to the Earth?”

I hadn’t. I didn’t know Detectorists could make trips to Earth, but then again I had not known a lot. I hadn’t known about the strikes or the Reds or if we were definitely in the Gray Plains where the Higher-Ups experimented.

“You also in Protection?” 253ers guy asked him excitedly.

“I was.”

The Launcher went back to his seat and so did the Blinker. I was left with the file on my lap, an uneasy knee and grumbling insides, still wondering if I should look for Pa’s name in the list with the five red highlighted names of my companions.

“You eva cleansed pal?” Someone asked. I was engrossed in mulling over the possibility of finding Pa’s name here or not finding it.

“First cleanser on Earth, not proud of it.”

“How many ya cleansed?”

“Five there, not proud.”

“So then ya refused?”

“Ya the last batch.”

“So they put ya in hea. You hear thas Cap’n? He done major offence refusin’ to do cleanse.”

Major offence, minor offence it all meant the same to me. Strikes or no strikes, Reds or no Reds, I hadn’t known this all. Why hadn’t I been told about all this during the induction when we were recruited as First Shifters? The Higher-Ups had been lyin’ through their teeth all along. Everything was in discrepancy. Nothing matched. Nothing was similar, aside from the smell of dead fish now. I had made up my mind. I started scrolling through the list under the fast fading light emitting from 253er’s guy…a bunch of names I never knew, never heard of, all missing, gone, vanished, never to return even though they were First Shifters or had been Individual Survivors. Pleam, Rabble, Hui, Flange…Suri, Dean, Wright…single names, a list of first names only…all Missing in Action.

“Whose ya first cleanse pal?” The Launcher with his raspy voice asked. They all seemed interested in him and his dull job. Harvesting energy off moonbeams, making sure all assignments completed on time and were duly accounted for.

“A fellow Detectorist.”

“What?” I inadvertently asked. What has moonlight energy got to do with a “fellow Detectorist”?

“I cleanse a fellow Detectorist, ya know, on Earth, not proud o’ it.”

Singe…Synge…J.P…Flanders…Bickler…Strahle…Song…

“What’s the moon got to do with it?” I asked, still focused on the ever-going list of names, first names only.

“The wha?”

“The moon Bob.”

Stupid guy needed clarification amidst ensuing chaos. Strahle again…Thimble…Nugyen…Meralise…Forche…Mickey…

“Whas the moon got to do anyfin with cleansin?”

I was annoyed now. I was going to burst at these imbeciles any moment now. I was with a bunch of idiots who knew nothing, including me.

“What the hell are you saying Bob?”

“I’m sayin the moon’s got nuffin’ to do with cleansin sir.”

“Cap’n, whas the matter? What moon?”

Patience, a noble virtue, I exercised to a great extent in that moment. I thought I’d clarify myself since nobody knew anything here or outside or on this damning planet.

“The moon you harness the energy from. The Cleansing process. You clean the moonbeams?”

I saw their faces turned towards me, aghast, as if I had gone mad. The shadows of the storm danced on their faces and frightened me. The storm howled.

“I ain’t heard of that Cap’n,” the Launcher said. The Blinker agreed and so did the two other Duty-boys.

Nonsense, I thought.

“Sir I ain’t knowin whas you talkin about. Cleanse ain’t that. I expunged a fellow Detectorist sir. Thas me job. Thas was my job.”

Now I was confused, like the Blinker boy earlier on.

“You what?” I didn’t know what made me ask that. Sweat trickled down my forehead, burning my eyes but I kept looking at the hefty figure ahead of me. I was beginning to be terrified, something I had never experienced in a long time, since Ma’s death at least when the Blight caught her.

“I took five fellas out to Earth an’ expunged them. Not proud of it.”

“An’ he refuse to take other four out so they done suspend him.” The Blinker explained as if I hadn’t heard the Detectorist before.

“Ya jus’ last week I think.”

I looked at my companions with dazed eyes. I was shocked, frozen, the pieces of the puzzle were all coming together and somehow I didn’t want them to. I wished for time to stop. I wished for Pa’s hug. I wished for safety. I was once again a thirteen earth years old.

“Cap’n ya a’ight?”

I mustered some courage and asked if anyone knew what Celesta was. Not to my surprise, the Detectorist answered.

“We was workin’ there on an’ off when we expunge.”

An Insignificant Person

Written on 12th November, 2015 at 12:58 AM

Do you know what irony is? Life throws it at us once in a while. Most of the times it catches us unaware. But at times, sometimes that is, at very rare times, you realize it but by then of course it is too late. The ironic instance has passed by you. You just missed it in the moment. One such instance has happened to me in recent memory. Not more than a week, or two ago. I wanted to ask of her to call me the moment she sat on the plane. I had tried calling her twice, thrice the day of her flight, but she hadn’t picked up my call. I decided to message her to call me, “call me when you are sitting in the plane”, was how the message would go. But then I decided against it. I felt it was too desperate of me. What’d she think, I thought. We had been apart for quite some time now, and to ask this of a person was a huge deal. You can only ask it if you have been very close, not once but throughout till the time of their departure. But we hadn’t. I thought she’d think how desperate is this guy, why would he want me to call him, to be the last voice she hears before she departs for another continent. Why should I be the last person she talks to while her feet are still on the same stretched ground as mine? I thought she must have other people to talk to, more important people, like perhaps her parents. “Mum, dad, I’m in the plane,” she’d tell them over a phone call as they waited for her outside in the airport parking lot. Why would they leave the airport before their daughter took off? They probably wanted to hear the plane revving its engines up, maybe take off too. That would assure them that their daughter was safe, in the plane, going to another chunk of land altogether, separated by miles and miles of ocean. “Take care of yourself,” her parents would tell her, as if it needed be said, but unspoken words are too much of a burden. We ought to say things often, before it’s too late. I thought she wasn’t even thinking of me then, what with so many people waiting on her. My existence would be the last thought that’d ever occur to her. Once you get in the plane, it hits you that you are leaving your family back here, you start questioning what the future holds for you, what will a new place do for you. But those questions were probably whirring in her mind, never to surface. Anyways, as I said, I must be the last thought she ought to have.

Around eight at night, I called her again but she didn’t pick up. I assumed she was busy with last minute flight preparations, greeting family members, her cousins and grandparents, and uncles and aunts. She had a big family. Her phone must be on silent. I knew I had missed her. I should have called her earlier to say goodbye, among other things I wanted to say. Perhaps I should have called her at five, when she would have been relatively free, maybe even waking up from a small nap. I had lost my chance, and that was that. I would never get to hear her voice whilst she remained in the country. I didn’t know when I would next hear from her. It saddened me greatly but I had to get through that night, and get through it without her thoughts bothering me much. So I decided to get high. I had been getting high continuously for the past three days, and I had never had such a long run with it. Tonight would mark the fourth day, and it’d help me immensely to get over a gut-wrenching pain I can’t explain. I felt like my innards were whizzing around within me, my stomach seemed to be a zero-g cavity, and my mind was all over the place, just scattered. After nine, I couldn’t muster a single coherent thought. But I had to get through that night. So I smoked up, smoked up real good. I put my phone on silent and went to sleep. The kind of sleep that often overtakes me when I’m high. A dreamless sleep. Dreaming another dream about her was the last thing I needed that night. I decided to call her one last time at precisely 11:20 PM. And then I slept.

I woke up suddenly sometime around midnight. I don’t know what woke me up exactly, but my arm naturally spurred in the direction of my phone. I unlocked it and saw a missed call. It was from her. She had called me at 11:27 PM. Just a mere seven minutes after I had slept. I had missed her call because my phone was on silent. Because I didn’t want to hear its nauseating vibrations when I am high and asleep. I loathe that. But that made me miss her call. I had lost again, I thought to myself. I immediately tried calling back. I must have called her seven, eight times in a mere minute. The worst part of it was I could hear no dial tone, no busy tone, no operator telling me “the number you are dialing is turned off, please try later” or “the number you are dialing is currently inaccessible, please try again.” Nothing. Zilch. It was just silence, and then the call would automatically drop, leaving me looking at the black wallpaper on my phone, baffled. I kept trying again and again to reach her, thinking the whole while to myself, maybe I’ll get her now, and maybe I’ll hear a beep this time, maybe an operator this time. I called and called but nobody picked up. I was hoping for signals to reach her in Bangkok, a layover, she had told me earlier. Maybe by some opportune, timeless miracle her phone signals would catch mine all the way out of this country into another. It was a preposterous thought but the likelihood of it happening seemed too real for me. But no, it was all silence. Pitch black, harrowing, silence. I had really missed her this time. And that too, just by a mere half hour. Our five years had condensed into those seven minutes of missed calls on both ends. It was comedic timing at best. Irony of unbounded proportion. So I smoked up another doobie and went to sleep this time, only to wake up the next morning. It was a dreamless sleep.

It was Friday then. It was Saturday next and I woke up to a few messages, five to be exact. All they said were “Thank you so much”, “I tried calling you from the plane”, “Anyways”, “I’m in Melbourne” and “Keep in touch.” I re-read the second message again and again, over and over. And that was it. Irony. Beautiful irony, woeful irony, dramatic irony, Irony with a capital ‘I’.


 

Where am I?

Task: with “Man on flat roof of high building” as a prompt, write 300 words immediately.

Where am I? What’s going on? Why is the sun blazing? Where am I? Does it have to be so bright, damn it! Okay wait. Where am I? The hard concrete has grazed my head. Is this a rooftop? What is going on? How did I end up here on this darned roof? I need to get up. The sun rays are blinding me. Okay nice and slow…woa…steady there…steady…steady…damn it…steady. Okay now I’m up. Now what? Yeah. Where am I? What is that? Is that a glass building? Is this the rooftop of a darned building? That doesn’t make any sense. How could I have gotten here? Damn my head hurts. Okay, now steadily walk towards the wall. I might be able to…steady… get a look across…steady…steady…okay…now I’m looking down – woa! That is some height there! Must be a good four, five hundred feet. Okay stop. Breath. Think. First questions first. How did I end up here? What time is it? Must be two in the afternoon. Or three. What the fuck does it matter? Trace back. Where are the stairs? There must be stairs here somewhere. I need to get down first. Okay all I see is a flat, concrete floor. What the hell? There has got to be a staircase here somewhere. Fuck, I’m sweating. I need fresh air. Great time for a private joke you nonce, find the stairs…or a darned ladder…yeah there has got to be ladder somewhere. Damn the sun! Okay stop. Breath. What is going on? How did I end up here if there are no stairs or ladders. Okay I need to sit down for a second. And breath. Trace back. First things first. Where am I? A rooftop of a high-rise building. Okay glad we settled that you prick. Serious now. Okay.

Overheard

15th September, 2015

An interesting conversation I overheard last night during intermission. I transcribe it here from the vestiges of memory.

WOMAN: This is my first movie experience in a cinema in around fifteen years.
MAN: Oh really? You should watch more movies in theatres. It’s a good experience.
WOMAN: I heard you left Lok…
MAN: Yeah I left Lok Virsa after Fouzia came.
WOMAN: Oh yeah I heard about that.
MAN: I chose her for the position.
WOMAN: Oh yeah yeah I remember, you both were pretty friendly.
MAN: I knew she had the potential that’s why I chose her but once in power she discontinued everyone’s pensions.
WOMAN: Oh no that was a bad move.
MAN: She wanted to do a project on the red light district. So I had to explain this to the board members to approve a budget. They said this was government money and government money can’t be used on such projects.
WOMAN: I remember reading that somewhere yeah.
MAN: So when I told Fouzia that, she got angry and we had a falling. They wrote about it everywhere, in the newspaper columns.
WOMAN: Oh no!
MAN: I even gave money from my own pocket for a project she and Shahaab wanted to do and then they spent the same money on the red light project.
WOMAN: Oh dear! You should write about that in your memoirs, are you writing them?
MAN: Nah I don’t know. Anyways how are you, where have you been?
WOMAN: I’ve been here in Pakistan.
MAN: Really?
WOMAN: Yeah, I am living here at my dad’s house since Reetu died last year.
MAN: Reetu died?
WOMAN: Yes, last year. I am her sister.
MAN: When did Reetu die?
WOMAN: Last year in August.
MAN: How did she die?
WOMAN: She died of cancer.
MAN: Cancer of what?
WOMAN: Colon cancer, it was very hard on me.
MAN: Reetu…oh you are Reetu’s sister Seema!
WOMAN: Haha yes I was waiting for you to recognise me.
MAN: Oh you are Reetu’s sister Seema! We have all been looking for you, where have you been?
WOMAN: I was nowhere. I am in Pakistan, living at my dad’s place.
MAN: Oh in that big house?
WOMAN: Yes yes.
MAN: You live alone?
WOMAN: Yes yes.
MAN: Oh so you live all by yourself in that big house? How come?
WOMAN: Yes, it has huge beautiful gardens.
MAN: How can you live there all alone?
WOMAN: I just do
MAN: So what do you do?
WOMAN: Ah just keep myself busy here and there, you know there is so much to do.
MAN: Oh so you are Reetu’s sister. You know people kept asking me about you. Where were you?
WOMAN: Nowhere just here.
MAN: Do you mind if I take your number?
WOMAN: No not at all…
MAN: I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with Shelly because he was asking about you.
WOMAN: Oh no not at all…

That’s when the second half of the movie commenced. The overhead lights went off. And last I heard of them, she was mumbling digits as he repeated them into the faint glow of the mobile screen he held so close to his face. Then the loud dialogue noise filled the hall.


 

17th September, 2015

Afterthoughts

Scouring through books at the library, my eyes stopped at a familiar yet alien title “Taboo – The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area.” Faintly reminiscent of a conversation I 51x8NqOfsFL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_overheard a few days ago, I proceeded to take out the book, and to my utter disbelief, saw that the book was authored by the same person who was referenced to in the aforementioned conversation.

Such concurrences are a rarity, but when they do happen, I’m at first overcome with glee – I was meant to come across the book at such a moment in time when I had just, a few days ago, overheard of its conception; that at a precise moment in history, the book was present in the library, had not been issued, and was meant to stumble before my peripheral vision.

It is only later on that I am engulfed with doubt – how am I so certain that the author of the book is in fact the person referenced to in the conversation? My mind had jumped to a plausible albeit abrupt connection between the two, but nowhere do I find tangible evidence of such a connection, nor am I in possession of logic that relates the two extemporary, seemingly indirect events as having a single source, which in this case is the woman, the authoress in question.


 

An Indefinite Death

Beloved Reader, here is my weak attempt at producing an epistolary short. Be wary that it has no proper structure, plot or character, no definite beginning or a fitting end.

March 14

I know not what to write, for the physician that oft calls on me, prescribed this as an effective cure to my present ailment of which I know nothing of. I cannot recall his exact words for I was weary and disconsolate from the night before, but he did press on me to write whatever I pleased in this diary. Shall I call it a diary? Perhaps it is too hasty of me to call it so for I know not if I shall confide my secrets in it. Is it a journal then? I may take to noting down the daily proceedings but I know not how it will do me any good. I am fatigued now, and shall attempt to write tomorrow.


 March 17

Today the physician inquired if I had made use of the diary he had graciously thrust into my hands upon his last visit. I cannot recall my reply, perhaps I was too drowsy to compose an answer, but he was positively assured by my dear brother that it was taken care of, that he shall make it his duty to keep a watchful eye on me daily and that I wrote daily even if it were a few mere sentences. I feel like I’m in school again, and that my dear brother, whom I adore very much, has taken on the role of our headmistress Mrs. Phenimore.

I write this, under my darling brothers ever so watchful eyes, even though he is not present in the room beside me, yet he keeps sending his daughter to check on me regularly. Dearest Lizzy calls me “Aunt Jenny” for that was a friendly name bestowed upon me by her mother, and she has kept to it, which I do not mind at the least. In fact I shall fancy acquiring it as my first name. I have found my first name, that which was given to me by my parents, very tiresome indeed. I know not what they were thinking to have me named Begonia, for I was much teased in school. Upon my enrollment, due to an unfortunate accident, the spelling of Begonia were altered to Beggonea, which made it all the more bothersome and the girls were insufferable in their constant taunts. “Beggonea, be gone!” was chanted whenever I passed through the halls or entered the grounds. I do wish to alter my second name too.

All this incurable writing has left me exhausted. I shall return tomorrow.


March 18

It did not occur to me that my physician could take it upon himself to open my diary and read it, word to word, for after all it is his notebook. He has not acted so, but I suspect that his imprudence wouldn’t stop him. And if he does so, I fear not if he reads this that I find him terrible insolent for he always walks into my room without knocking at the door, or seeking permission, which every one, save Lizzy, sees to in the most civil fashion. I also find it most indecent that he allows himself to sit on the chair beside my bed. He pulls it up next to me on his accord, without ever saying “May I sit beside you?”, or “May I pull this chair next to you?” His impertinence shall cost him one day, if he is to ever call upon a fairer lady than myself, the kind which demand a certain respect from other. And if he shall make himself comfortable in her company without seeking permission from her Ladyship, she shall have him dismissed at a moments’ notice. Perhaps I should approach him with this matter next time he visits me. I shall, with utmost caution, make him realize his discourteous behavior towards me and forewarn him as it is most ill-suited to his profession. Yes, I intend to make him see through his misconduct in the most kindest of words.


March 21

We are to move to a lake house in the upper West side of the country for a brief period of time. My dearest brother is of the opinion that the right climate shall provide me with an instant cure to my extant condition, an estimation he came to quickly after the physician left day before yesterday. I had not had the chance then to speak to the physician about his misconduct, as I was too weak, but I shall when he visits me in the lake house, for he has assured my brother that he shall visit me twice every week, and that I was to keep having my present dose.


March 23

My dosage has been doubled, which fatigues me greatly. Dearest Lizzy has been packing my belongings most arduously. We are to move to the lake house in a week. I haven’t seen my dear brother since the physician last left. I suspect that he is gone out of town, but he has never not acquainted me with his plans and left the house. I worry not for I have sent a message to all the servants to notify me as soon as he arrives, that he is to come see his sister immediately. I shall of course not get angry at him for having failed to inform me of his plans, but I shall make him a pleasant request to kindly do so from here on.


March 25

We are traveling towards the lake house in a carriage my dearest brother purchased for me especially for the occasion of traveling so distant. The horses driving the carriage are of the finest breed available in the entire country, for I have felt not a single bump throughout the journey. I surmised from the map that Lizzy drew for me, that we are about fifteen miles away from the lake house and shall arrive there by twilight.


March 25

We have arrived. I am yet to explore the splendors of this beauteous place, which I shall do tomorrow at the first break of dawn. The room apportioned to me by the dearest brother, is on the ground floor and quite spacious but I have taken a sudden dislike to the charcoal gray bar grill that creeps along the entire length of the window. It is quite plain which for some strange reasons, revolts me greatly. It also hinders my full view of the garden and I shall have it removed soon.


March 26

I have cried disconsolately for much of the morning today, to my darling brother’s great alarm. Lizzy tells me he has sent for the physician immediately along with the carriage and a chestnut horse from the stables. I know not why my heart sinks immensely and I have not yet plucked up the courage to look at the garden from my window which I know is let wide open. Here comes brother dearest!


March 27

I am quite weary despite not having gotten out of bed at all. Lizzy reads to me from a book, I fail to recall the name of. The tonic prescribed to me to be ingested at noon every day makes me a great deal sleepy. The physician is to reach our lodgings today. I shall ask him to be polite.


March 27

Today I came to know that the physician goes around by the name of Jonathan Swissburne. I find it quite odd that up until today, I knew not his name even though he has been my dearest brothers childhood friend. I quite like his name, it is very befitting his profession. So I shall call him Doctor Swissburne from here on. When I inquired as to what ails me, he looked at me with his somber blue eyes and whispered “Only nothing my dear.” I was quite amused by his reply and when I pointed towards half a dozen tonic bottles on my side he retorted, and quite mischievously I might add, “Just a caution, my dear.” About an hour later, as I fell in and out of sleep, I heard him faintly, at a distance talking to my dearest brother and another person who I could hardly make out. Their conversation, which has fallen out of my memory, more or less went like this:

Dr. Swissburne: This is the first time she has conversed with me

Brother dearest: She shall be in grievous shock

Third person: She mustn’t be told, I can continue with the dosage, I know what he has prescribed

Dr. Swissburne: Of course, you may continue with the medicines

Brother dearest: You shall go immediately to the city, borrow one of my horses and purchase two months of supply.

Dr. Swissburne: That won’t be required

After which I heard the third person leave the room. The candlelight has begun to cast great shadows on the walls. Ever since my arrival at the lake house, I have not had the strength to visit the great outdoors. From what I’ve picked up from whispering servants, there has been a death in the neighborhood, that my brother dearest has hired a gardener to tend to the flowers and landscape the property, that the chestnut horse has been gravely injured and will have to be put down soon. The candle light flickers and shall be out in a moment. I bid adieu for I shall write again. Dr. Swissburne was in the right all along.


March 28

As I woke up today, I found Lizzy by my side, puffy eyed and red, looking down at me with a piteous stare. She immediately ran outside but I did hear her sob as she closed the door behind her. I know not what affects my darling Lizzy, perhaps it is my present state which has caused her much anguish. Or perhaps the death in the neighborhood but I know not why it would affect her so for she knew them not, and from what I hear, the nearest house is about a mile away. I can assuredly say that she has grown tired of her aunt’s wretched condition, that she hopes nay prays that I be well soon so that we can resume our walks together in the park.


March 29

Dr. Swissburne was kind enough to accompany me today as I wept bitterly but quietly on the bed. From the corner of my eye I saw brother dearest open the door to catch a glimpse of me. If I’m not mistaken, I saw him with swollen eyes which I shall, with every certainty say, is chiefly owed to his daunting work. For last night, I could hear him ordering men around all night, and despite a heavy sleep, his voice kept echoing of whispered commands, of men going in and out of the house all night, of the doors creaking open and shut. I later asked Dr. Swissburne as to what was causing him distress to which he gently smiled and said “Only nothing, my dear.” I know not what came over me but I assured Dr. Swissburne that I no longer wished to be the cause of worry to my family. Then I quietly resolved with myself to appear in high spirits whenever brother dearest or Lizzy provided me with company. As to my sudden reversal of temperaments, and bouts of dejection, I shall, for now, exercise as much restraint as I possibly can muster.


March 30

I have woken up in much better spirits today. I intend to visit the garden and walk with my darling Lizzy as we used to before her mother passed away.


March 31

My plans for yesterday were thwarted when I saw both my brother and Lizzy dressed in black. I deduced that they were going to the funeral in the neighborhood but before I could place a request to my brother regarding assigning me a maid who could assist me with my stroll in the garden, I had fainted. I woke hours later with Dr. Swissburne by my side who informed me that the house was empty save a few servants in the adjacent room whom I could clearly hear were busy playing cards. Dr. Swissburne looked pale and I shall attribute it to his ill-habit of eating late in the morning and going to bed without dinner for when I had asked him to help himself to the bowl of fruits placed by my bedside for my benefit he had said “Nothing, my dear” and months ago when he was invited by my brother dearest to dine along with the family, he had refused then too. Tomorrow I shall remind him that his constant reminders to me to eat properly, fully at all meal times were rendered useless if he was himself evading that which he suggested.


April 1

A very peculiar thing happened today, of which I am trying to seek a justification of but simply cannot arrive at a conclusion as to what triggered it. Today, as usual, but with slightly less sore eyes, Lizzy visited me for a while. She apologized for not having  come to me for two days straight which I find odd because I remember her reading to me in my sleep after Dr. Swissburne had left.  All this while I kept quiet as she then proceeded to draw out the curtains, open the window and pull up the chair beside my bed. When she was reaching for the book that was always placed by my bedside, of which the name I cannot ever seem to recall, I happened to ask her if Dr. Swissburne was being invited to dinner every day. I noticed her facial expressions turn first into slight shock and then her cheeks colored, and her eyes watered and she excused herself. She did not return the entire day except at evening with brother dearest who looked so solemnly at me as if I was on deathbed. He then inquired if I had been writing and I assured him that I was. He smiled at me and left. I must take to bed now, for the candle may die out any moment.


April 2

I woke up to the mechanical shrills of a cutter as some men worked their way to remove the window grill. I’m ever so thankful to brother dearest who has always taken care of me. I cannot recall if I ever expressed the desire to get rid of the ghastly grill. But no matter, I shall be able to view the garden fully now. I look forward to Dr. Swissburne’s visit.


April 3

I woke up to Dr. Swissburne walking across my room in a fervid manner. I was much too drowsy but I clearly heard him say to himself “Begonia, my Begonia, my dear.” What does it all mean? For when I was about to inquire, he had left the room with the door ajar through which the maid then peeked her head and closed it fully behind her. I later heard her rushing upstairs.


April 4

Owing to my continuing ill health and my inability to exercise restraint over tumultuous emotions, I was told that I had been assigned a new doctor, a certain Dr. Nathaniel. I am assured that Dr. Swissburne shall not stop visiting me from time to time, even though his visits shall now be rare. I will remember to ask this of brother dearest to allow him. I have taken a great liking to his second name and his blue eyes. I shall also remember to ask him to have a proper meal so that the color can return to his cheeks. I shall also remember to thank him for his kindness in giving me his diary.


April 10

I am much exhausted owing to Dr. Nathaniel’s interrogation which lasted for hours and despite having answered all of his questions, at the end, he still complained to my brother dearest of having failed to coerce a single word out of my mouth.


April 12

Do they not hear me when I speak? Or do I not speak at all? Dr. Swissburne has assured me that he can hear me just fine.


April 15

My dosage has increased and I’m required to take daily walks in the room, only that I wish to walk in the garden with Lizzy and not be confined by the walls or assisted by the maid. I shall communicate my concerns to brother dearest tomorrow who continues looking graver every day.


April 16

The most peculiar thing happened last night. Dr. Swissburne came to my room without knocking at the door, a habit which hasn’t bothered me lately, for I am getting quite used to his unannounced appearances. He looked quite sullen with dark marks under his eyes. His cheeks were hollowed out and his thin, stately demeanor reminded me a lot of Lizzy’s mother. When I inquired as to what was his purpose for visiting me at this late an hour, he gave a very faint smile, that which contrasted heavily against his pallid face and simply said “Let it be, my dear.” He then helped himself on to the chair and thereby I noticed a strong putrid smell and made a mental note to notify the maid the following morning to look under the bed for a dead rat.


April 19

I quite enjoy the days when Dr. Nathaniel does not visit, for then I can sleep as much as I wish to, and hear Lizzy reading from the book. But most of all, I am not expected to talk against my will which burdens my poor nerves greatly. These past two days have been quite troublesome for me for I was made to walk the length of the room twice, with Susan’s arms flung around my shoulders, and she is a broad-boned woman. Seemingly, I carried not only my weight but hers too. And once again, Dr. Nathaniel pressed me for answers to the most absurd questions one can possibly think of. I worry if he is a fraud, which seems the likely possibility, but I have not conveyed this concern to my brother yet. I shall ask Dr. Swissburne if his persistent questions will do me any good.

I know not if they combed the room for a dead rat. I cannot recall if I had instructed the maid to do so or not.


April 27

I am quite fatigued. I know not what to write, and at times I think that I must stop writing altogether. I shall seek advice from Dr. Swissburne, since I owe this pleasure to him. But he has not paid visit for the past one week or so which worries me greatly. I shall ask Lizzy about the matter tomorrow. Now I bid adieu. The silence has long overtaken the shadows of night.


April 30

I am not quite sure if it is thirtieth of April today or first of May. Perhaps it is the twenty-ninth of April. I shall ask Lizzy tomorrow and change the date on this accordingly.


April 31

I overheard a few men in the garden conversing about unpaid dues for a funeral. Why did brother dearest go to such lengths of paying for the neighbors’ funeral whom we, or he, barely knows?


April 30

Dr. Nathaniel is of the opinion that I am making gradual progress, but he knows not what afflicts me greatly now. That is Dr. Swissburne’s continual absence. Mrs. Phenimore never much liked absences and reprimanded a girl for having missed two weeks of school. I shall inquire Lizzy about his whereabouts.


April 30

May 1 

Lizzy says it is the first of May today. But I know she lies for when I asked her about Dr. Swissburne, she somberly told me he had died! And when I insisted that she ought to tell me the truth, she simply took off.