It’s finally Friday and it is the fifth day of my writing week challenge, where I will post a new piece of fiction every day until Sunday – which means there are only two more posts left! If you haven’t given me a prompt yet but want to, you can do so in the comments below or visit my Twitter/Facebook and leave a comment there!
This day’s story is 2,360 words. The prompt was “a family wedding (Indian Hindu) but the bride is not Indian and then it is revealed that the bride’s cousin is one of the groom’s old classmates”.
Let me know what you think about it and, of course, show the love by sharing!
Dedicated to Sirirani27.
A flash of bright light. I blinked frantically, my eyes watering. The temporary blindness faded and I found myself looking into the face of my bride. To my side, I recognized the sound of my mother nagging. I glanced her way and saw she was wagging her finger at a sheepish looking person holding a camera. He wasn’t someone I recognized, maybe a cousin? Or someone from the bride’s side of the family? To my left, several hundred people were seated in chairs, waiting for the ceremony to start. Their murmured voices were like the buzzing of a cloud of flies.
I felt out of place, like I’d only just woken up. Maybe it was the heat, or the brilliant sunlight. In fact, it was strange – the sun was unusually bright, I could almost see the shafts of light shifting around, dancing uncomfortably with each other, vying for position. Luckily the luscious white fabric that made up the roof of the mandap filtered the harsh light into something softer. The perfume of the roses that adorned each of the four pillars was overpowering, dizzying.
She squeezed my hand and I looked at my bride again. The light was blazing around her face like a halo and I struggled to see her features past that. My eyes sunk into focus, strangely, slowly. Then I saw her. She was beautiful, she was stunning, I felt like I was seeing her for the very first time. It was disorientating. She was… white. With the bluest eyes I’d ever seen and hair as yellow as fine sand. I tried to mask my confusion, but she saw it and reached for my hand, squeezing it in hers. I looked down at her hand in mine. I frowned. It looked… unfamiliar. Like they didn’t belong together. But that was ridiculous, of course. I loved her enough to propose and she loved me enough to marry me in the traditional Hindu fashion. It was the perfect day for it, the summer sun was blessing our love – it was summer, right? I tried to remember the date, even just the day of the –
Movement in the audience caught my attention. I looked over, my eyes scanning across the indistinct sea of faces. One stood out in the blur: a little girl. She was familiar. Oddly enough, more familiar to me than my own bride. The little girl was standing on her seat and she had one hand cupped to her mouth, the other one waved above her head, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying.
“Don’t worry about her, my love. That’s just my cousin,” my bride whispered.
My frown deepened. The little girl in the crowd was Indian like me, and I knew her from somewhere. But where?
“Rakesh, I’ve never been as happy as I am now,” she continued.
My head was pounding. It was so hard to concentrate. We should have had our wedding in a temple, out of the sun, rather than out here – here – where were we?
The little girl was jumping on the seat of her chair now, waving both arms. She looked upset. Why wasn’t her mother scolding her? I squinted against the glare of the sun. She wasn’t wearing a sari. She was wearing a school uniform – the same one I wore in elementary school.
Remembrance struck like lightning.
But that couldn’t be her. She hadn’t aged at all.
My bride – her name? what was her name? – tugged at my hand and I looked at her. The agni was lit. When had the priest gotten here? Time was slippery and my mind struggled to dispel the fog that had settled on it. We began our walk around the fire. The whole time, I couldn’t help but remember Indumati. She had always been the type of girl to smile, even though her eyes were always sad. She was also very, very shy. A lot of the other girls would tease her for her broken crayons and hand-me-down uniforms. One day, maybe in third or fourth grade, I’d gotten into some stupid fight with my friends and gone to a different part of the playground to pout. She’d been there. I was curious about the shy girl who always smiled even when the others pulled her hair and broke her pencils. So, I started talking to her.
I got to know her and I grew fond of her. She had been my first crush and I made the effort to seek her out, to play with her, to draw with her, to try and make her laugh everyday. Our school was small, so we were always in the same class – in fifth grade and finally sixth. Eventually Indumati told me that she was an only child, her father hated her for being a girl and often hit her – especially when she did not get acceptable grades.
Even when she told me this and showed me a new bruise on her arm, Indumati was still smiling. She told me she wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up because she thought the stray dogs that ran around town were much nicer than people.
At that time, and even now, I couldn’t disagree with her.
I looked up and saw my bride with the mark of red through the part of her hair. My head was pounding. I felt sick. The sun was too hot and her smile was too bright, and I couldn’t remember what was wrong with Indumati. What was wrong with her?
I looked back at the little girl.
It was wrong that she was still young. Why hadn’t she grown up?
A cold shock rippled through me, momentarily clearing my mind.
She hadn’t aged because Indumati died when we were in sixth grade.
That’s right. I could remember it clearly now. One day, Indumati hadn’t come to school. She was absent the next day. Then the next, then the next. On the fifth day, the teacher let the class know that Indumati had died in an accident.
I’d gone home that day with the first broken heart of my life. When my mom asked me what was wrong and I told her, she had made a face. A terrible face, something between disgust and sorrow. At first she wouldn’t tell me, but I pestered and pestered. Finally, she told me that Indumati’s father had been arrested and that maybe something other than an accident had happened to poor, smiling Indumati.
Now here I was, shaking and watching this dead little girl screaming silently in a crowd of faceless people. My bride was tugging at my hand, tugging, tugging, grabbing my arm and trying to pull me around. I stared at Indumati. What was she saying? What was she trying to tell me?
My bride finally turned me to face her. She was frowning and her hand gripped mine so hard it hurt. A faint, warm hand slipped into my other hand and I looked to my right. Indumati was there, looking up at me with her little smile.
“Remember? You gave me your markers to keep,” she said, holding up a large box.
I did remember. Indumati had loved to draw but her father refused to buy her anything nice. In the fifth grade, I’d begged my mom to buy me those markers for my birthday, they’d come with sixty-four colours and a sketchbook. When she conceded, I brought them to school the next day and gave them to Indumati. It was one of the few times her smile ever reached her eyes.
“’Member what I said, Rakesh? Remember? I said – ”
“You said; ‘I owe you one, Rakesh.’” I whispered and Indumati nodded.
A flash of light, that damn photographer, my mother would have a –
I opened my eyes and was staring at a dark ceiling. My head was pounding, an orchestra of agony originating from my left temple. I raised a hand and touched it. Felt something wet and, when I looked at my fingers, I saw that they were stained red.
The memories trickled in, unwillingly.
I’d been asleep in my bedroom – yes, this was my house and I was laying on my living room floor – and had woken up because I’d heard the sound of breaking glass. I’d gotten my bat and went to investigate, but there were three of them and only one of me. I didn’t recognize the two men, but I knew her face. Everyone knew her face. They showed it every night on the news. She was the leader of the Dreamlands Gang. They were responsible for nearly a hundred deaths so far.
They used black market virtual reality chips that they combined with stolen hospital-grade neural diagnostic tools – in layman’s terms, they designed a nail gun that would inject a chip into the brain of their victim, sending them instantly into a dream state.
Everything clicked into place. Now I knew the face of my bride. The Dreamlands leader had inserted herself into the death dream she’d put in me. The thought was revolting. What kind of sick person was she?
I experimented – wiggling my toes, clenching my hands, shifting my head from side to side. My body was moving as normal, despite the bright agony that now lived in my head.
Normally the victims died in these states as the forceful insertion almost always caused bleeding in the brain. The gang would rob the victim’s home as the person lay dying on the floor, completely unaware of what was happening to them.
I listened. I could hear the sound of drawers opening, mutters in another room, the sharp shatter as something was dropped followed by an even sharper curse. My head wanted to split, to expand past the confines of my skull. I had to get out of there and call an ambulance. Doubtless, like the other Dreamlands victims, my brain was bleeding and I would soon die without intervention.
I rolled to my side, pushed myself to my knees. The room spun around me. I wouldn’t risk standing, in case I fell and alerted them to the fact I was attempting to escape. Instead I crawled toward my front door. It was slow progress and every few seconds I would pause to listen and make sure they were still busy in the other room. It was endless, the front door never seemed to get closer, and I thought that at any moment they would come back through and find me there, weak and helpless, crawling along the floor.
The pain in my head, though horrible, was holding steady. I had a chance. I could survive, if only I could get help soon enough. There, in front of me, was the door. My whole body shook as I reached and gripped the doorknob, pulling myself to my feet. Slowly, so slowly, I turned the deadbolt, praying. Unfortunately, my prayer wasn’t answered and the thunk of the deadbolt returning was obvious.
The noises in the other room ceased.
My legs were trembling, I wouldn’t be able to outrun them if it came to that. I held onto the doorknob and held my breath. I heard their footsteps coming down the hall. They didn’t know the floor as well as I did and stepped on all the creaky parts.
I shut my eyes and began to twist the doorknob.
There wasn’t any chance for me now, but I would at least try. It was all I could do now.
From somewhere deeper in the house was a loud clatter. The intruders in the hall stopped. I waited. There was a moment of absolute silence. Then the footsteps retreated in a rush, back down the hall, in the direction of the other noise. I wasn’t going to let this chance go to waste. The doorknob fully turned, I pulled open the door and stumbled out. The night was cool and there was a hint of dawn to the sky in the east. I turned right. My neighbour, Vivaan, would be home. It was there that I would find help.
I went home a month later. My hands still shook and sometimes a headache would strike like an icepick to my brain the pain of which could completely incapacitate me, but they gave me a prescription for that. It was manageable. The important thing was that I had survived.
Vivaan picked me up from the hospital and took me home. The police had investigated but found nothing to help them catch the Dreamlands Gang. Vivaan told me he’d done me the favour of boarding up the back window they’d broken and collecting my mail for me. When he offered to come in with me that day, I said no.
I waited until he’d gone into his own house before unlocking and opening my front door. I stepped into my living room and looked to the floor where I had lain, on death’s door. Then I turned on the lights and checked to see what was missing. The intruders had gotten most of my valuables but not everything. They’d been interrupted by… something.
I walked down the same hall they had; I remembered those hazy moments as I stood at my front door, sure I would then die. They’d heard something – I’d heard something. Something deeper in the house.
I looked through my closets, my bathroom, my bedroom, and finally stood in the doorway to my study, which was at the very back of my home. It was here I kept my books, computer, and drawing table for my architectural designs. The Dreamlands Gang hadn’t even taken my laptop, it seemed like it was here they had seen or heard something that had driven them out of my house.
I didn’t have to look for the source of the noise I’d heard that night. It was spread out all over the mosaic tile floor: markers. I kneeled on the floor and took one in my hand. I recognized the brand, I knew it very well, though I hadn’t owned any since elementary school. I picked them all up, all sixty-four of them. I picked them up with a smile.
Thank you for reading and let me know what you think! Until tomorrow!
x P.L. McMillan