(picture from torimusicious.blogspot.com)
The hours had been intolerably long; trickling away in painfully slow minutes. She had been browsing the net for hours, her head filled with stories of elves and fairies and monsters that walk among us. Suddenly the screen flickered, and glowed a bright green. She tapped at the keys vigorously, and moved the mouse about. She bent down, and turned off the main switch. But the screen stay put, with bold red lettering on it, that read: YOU DIE TONIGHT!
Outside, through the piercing solitude of the night, she could hear suddenly the dull noise. Thud-thud-thud... like hammering, or footsteps perhaps.
"No!", her mind revolted. "It cannot be." The night was too spent for anyone to be awake. "Your mind is playing tricks on you!" she heard herself say. And then, the next moment, the irony struck her - her mind was telling her that her mind was playing tricks. On the screen, the words continued to flicker. But suddenly, the red bold letters transformed to an almost demure small, clean, white font, which read:
"Don't run away. This will soon be over."
Too stunned to even wipe the sweat that was profusely wetting her brow, she heard the steps again. Or not.
She hit hard some random keys, fighting the letters that were. But the letters stayed, glowed and mocked. She tried to drown the sound of those thudding steps with her tapping of the keys, but it seemed like a fort she couldn't hold for long. The phone! She'd have to call someone for help. She picked up her cell, and began to dial her boyfriend's number. Her heart sank, when she realised there was no network.
For the briefest of moment, she felt her old self return. "So much for your effing 3G, moron!"
And then the steps. And then the silence.
She felt herself the protagonist from one of those horror movies that she'd always mocked for being too coincidental - how the network failed just when the heroine decided to call for help. She was certain her present scenario wasn't what her professor had in mind, when she'd declared, "Be the stars of your own film!"
"HA HA HA! HA HA HA!"
The last thing she heard was a scream - was it her own? - and the monitor glowing with a smiley.
Then there was black. Consciousness left her.
"Why am I being carried?" a voice in her mind echoed. "Oh, and so amazing is that island over there. Isn't it, Cliffe?" shouted another.
"Cliff" the voice corrected. "That's where we are headed. You and I. A 1000-foot drop off this glorious cliff, before we reach that island." The heavy thud continued under her, footsteps of this man called Cliffe, who was carrying her to the edge of an abyss. She enjoyed floating like this, looking up at his face, familiar from some lifetime. An old boyfriend perhaps. But he was called Clyde. "Heh, he is cute," she thought, as his face started receding towards the sky. "Oh, but he's not flying... I am falling. It is I who dies tonight," she thought to herself, as she floated down like a leaf through the satiny darkness.
Ah, the devious comfort of knowledge! The wonderful tyranny of ignorance!
For a moment, she felt glad that she had had that message on the screen. "It is death," her voice went on, "How much worse can it get? There's no choice to make...you're free!"
"Oh, you are mad, woman," the other voice chided. "But you never wanted to make the choice, did you? Cliffe asked you so many times, didn't he? You ran away from it."
"Who's Cliffe? He was Clyde!" she argued.
Before the voice in her head, or were there two, could carry forth their learned discussion...
Rude water. She didn't know what was more terrifying - its chill, or the one that it had sent up her spine. Her arms danced around wildly, as she struggled to get a breath of air - it seemed it had all turned cement - and the darkness brought forth newer nightmares.
Far in the distance, she thought she heard those steps again. Yes! There he was. And then, surprisingly, he lit a match. Faint light.
"Surely this is it," she thought. Surely, this was her end.
In a strange frenzy then, she began removing her clothing. They were too heavy, and she wanted to feel light. She had never thought lightness would be her last wish.
Beside the sodden pile of clothes, she sat naked and in wait. The island seemed to have shrunk into a pebble's worth of land, and she tossed it into the water. He stood beside her, aloof, unaffected by her bare body, having lit a cigarette with his match and letting it burn away. He wasn't even Cliffe anymore. Here now stood a random colleague from her workplace, who she had bumped into earlier in the day at the office canteen. There was nowhere to go, nothing to hide, no one to wait for. Here and now was freedom. If this was death, she didn't quite mind it. But wait, the thudding hadn't stopped. Thud-thud-thud...
"Stop fooling yourself, woman!" the voice snapped her out of her reverie. "There's no voice. There hasn't been a voice. You've been kidnapped, and you'll be murdered."
The man stepped closer and peering at her said, "Do you know me?" If a snake had spoken, she was sure he'd have sounded much the same.
"No...", she lied.
"Hmmm. Good. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Ayam. Do you know why you're here?"
"No...", she lied. Again.
"Oh, I see. Doesn't matter. I'll tell you. You're here because I am going to kill you," he said.
She could see the cold, crude white of his skin - as much as she could in the glow of the cigarette that hung from his lips.
"Then why don't you?" she asked.
"What's the hurry? We have time, don't we? I certainly do. And whether you do or not, is quite immaterial, won't you agree? Ha ha ha!" He was evidently pleased with his joke. But she couldn't get the image of the snake out of her mind - If one had laughed she was sure...
"Anyway, while we wait, let me tell you a story..." he made the incredulous proposition.
She heard the wind howl. She heard the sea roar, She could feel the surf slide onto her naked skin - and the sudden independence of it struck her. For the first time in her life, she wasn't conscious of her body, didn't find it ugly.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the figure pinning her strongly on the floor. "Shall we begin?" he said, carefully placing his hands around her neck. But all she could focus on, was the sound of those steps.
The steps, the incessant footsteps continued to climb an interminable staircase. Far sometimes, sometimes jarring, but constant like her heart. Even as Ayam slowly squeezed the life out of her, telling her wondrous tales of more elves, more fairies and more monsters that walk among us, the thud-thud-thud stayed to comfort her. Her eyes began to bulge, her breath leaving her, Ayam's death-like grip on her beautiful neck.
It hit her then. Ayam was her hatred for herself. That monster called self-loathing. It had got to her today. "But I am beautiful," she gasped for breath. "I want to... (choke)... live."
"A little too late, aren't you?" he said mockingly, his eyes in an intense love-hate gaze.
"No...(choke)..don't...", and she woke up with a start.
"Damn, that was scary!" she giggled nervously, and walked toward her bedroom. It was nearly half past three, and she had been asleep, slumped over her keyboard for more than half an hour.
Her eccentric sculptor neighbour was still carving away. "That sure was a masterpiece," he said, and smiled to himself. He had more black dreams to create tonight.
(Co-written with Abhimanyu Jain @abhiqrtz)