Horror, short story

Tales from Disturbia – 13 days of horror

Not sure how I ended up writing grotesque horror and gore stories. This is an experimental writing project, trying out new formats of flash fiction, and a new genre. It was inspired by a few two-line horror stories I read a long time ago. I had other stories in mind, but I’ve stopped at 13, keeping it ominous, as well as maintaining my sanity to avoid nightmares. I’d say they are like the Evil Dead/Final Destination series, some find them hilarious, some terrifying. Depending on which side you belong to, I’d warn that contents are pretty creepy and not suitable for children or weak-hearted adults.

Day-1

They said that I was always good in geometry. I never denied it. Geometry is everywhere; it’s about how every line, arc and angle fitted into a perfect symmetry. I could always sense that. Except for the time I failed to notice the parabolic trajectory of a shard of glass that sliced my throat.

Day-2

Shawn came home hungry after a long day at work. He wanted to cook a korma. He opened the freezer and took out a box of frozen meat. He looked at the label and smiled. That was Brian’s thighs, the guy Shawn last dated.

Day-3

Monica pressed the brake hard, the traffic is queuing ahead. She looked outside, to see what’s lying on the verge. Packets of chips, pieces of tyre, the skin of foxes and badgers run over. She crawled forward a bit and looked again. On the grassy land covered with trees lay what looked like a hand. She focussed hard, that was a hand! And what’s that big bin bag doing there? Monica could feel her heartbeat rising. But the traffic eased off suddenly and she drove on home.

Day-4

Tinku thinks he has special powers. Not just the sights and sounds, he can remember the smell and the taste as well. He remembers the aroma of the egg curry with butter he had fifteen years back in his friend’s flat. And he remembers the putrid smell of the corpse of a woman at the crematorium — her body swollen from the Post-mortem, and the smell of cheap perfume her family was pouring on her to douse the smell.

Day-5

I was on my way to the Chinese class on an auto rickshaw. The traffic slowed down in the railway over-bridge and people were looking down. So did I. There was a man, sitting on the track. Not all of him though. It was his torso, wrapped in a jute bag, sat up. His head was missing. Why did I look!

Day-6

Arshad saw the bicycle thief. Being mauled by the mob. He grabbed his daddy’s hand a bit tighter. And they went to the market. Arshad couldn’t understand why they were beating that guy. Or the human form lying inside the waste bin on their way back. Thirty years on, he still wonders if the mob set fire on him or it was just mud.

Day-7

There was a stale stench hung in the air. It seemed to come from Mr. Vargese’s flat on the first floor. When the smell was so strong in the stairwell, the neighbours decided to break in his flat. The moment the front door was burst open, it was clear what it was. They found his body hanging from the ceiling in the toilet. And the flies. As John cut the rope, Stan tried to hold on to the dangling legs to lower the corpse. But his hand sank through the decomposed flesh. Rotten flesh all over his hand. And the flies sat back on them.

Day-8

“Sam, are you home?”. Abbey called from outside Sam’s window. Sam looked at the watch. 1:57. What the hell? Should he get up? He stayed in his bed. “Sam?”. She called again. “Coming”, Sam got out of the bed and put his top on. The next morning, people found Sam’s door wide open. He was never found. Sam didn’t wait for the third call. The devil claimed his soul.

Day-9

Adewale looked up from the ground floor landing and his heart skipped. Is there a man watching over them from the top of the stairwell? He looked again, the head was still there. With three or four classmates he climbed up to the fourth floor and realised that it was a bulkhead lamp hanging from the ceiling. Nevertheless, Ade looked up every day. Except for one night, when he was slightly drunk, and there was a head instead of the lamp, watching over him. He had a sickle in his hand.

Day-10

It was my idea. Imran opposite the toilet was a sissy. We made a scarecrow for Imran, using the travel kits people borrowed from the university mountaineering society. Then we hung it from the ceiling of the toilet, so if Imran ever wanted a toilet at night, he’d see the man hanging. We also took out a lamp from the toilet. Imran didn’t go to the toilet that night. I did. And I forgot about the prank. They are sending me for post-mortem today.

Day-11

Parimal is into palmistry. When Malay came to show his hands, Parimal told him to be careful, but he wouldn’t say what of. During summer, they went to the hills in a group of 15. On the first night they found themselves surrounded by tribal people wielding machetes and torches. They set fire to the house. Some of Malay’s mates chose to be burnt alive. Some tried to flee but were hacked to death. That’s what Parimal saw on Malay’s hand. A violent death. Malay was hacked.

Day-12

When Stefan went to the uni to study engineering, he was met by a bunch of sophomores. They dragged him to the field, down to the loco sheds. Stefan knew about ragging, but this was going a bit far. They tied his hands behind his back, laid him on one of the tracks, and bound him to the track. Stefan could hear the vibrations of a coming train. He knew about this prank before. This must be the disused track, he kept telling himself. It was, or so thought by the sophomores as well. But the loco was sent for shunting. It dragged Stefan about fifty yards, at a slow speed, shredding his body in pieces for over two minutes.

Day-13

Harriet wanted to be a nurse. Yet her parents forced her to be a doctor. She never liked autopsy much, and it almost pushed her off the edge. During her time as an intern, her friends took her to the hospital morgue and slammed the door behind her. They thought about leaving her for a few minutes and let her out. They forgot as the pagers went off for a major accident emergency. Samantha came back to unlock her three hours later. She found Harriet chewing an arm, ripped off from a corpse.

***The reaper’s thirteen***

Debra always slept with her pet python. Its girth reminded her of her last boyfriend. The python stopped eating one day. She took it to the vet, but the vet couldn’t find anything wrong. She tried to change its diet but nothing happened. Then one night Debra found herself constricted by the giant snake. As her head slowly started to disappear into its mouth, Debra realised why the python stopped eating. It was getting ready to eat her.
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Culture, Film review, Films, Russia

I won’t come back (Я Не Вернюсь) – A fable on screen

I recently came across a Russian film called I won’t come back, or Я Не Вернюсь (Ya ne vernus) in Russian. It took a while to decide which one to watch, from a list of films by the likes of Pedro Almodóvar and Michael Haneke. And I chose to watch the film by an unknown Estonian director Ilmar Raag. But after watching it, I can say the much-cliched phrase that you’ve only failed when you stopped trying. Failing, in this context, is not knowing the world of the parallel cinema, not knowing about a different world away from glitzy Hollywood and Bollywood, not witnessing life in another part of the world so less represented in the media. I won’t come back is a powerful film about two orphans fighting their corner in the world and their desperate search for love. The harsh realities of life, laced with short tales providing a poetic, magical, getaway from the sombre undertone of the storyline, and a brilliant cinematography spanning the vast expanse of the Russian countryside to the Altai mountains in Kazakhstan — the result of the eclectic mix is unforgettable. And above all, I won’t come back portrays career defining performances by Polina Pushkaruk and young Vika Lobacheva.

Russian trailer for the film
(Source: YouTube)

Polina portrays Anya, who grew up in an orphanage, and she becomes a lecturer in an university. There, she falls in love with a professor, but he has a family with children. One day she was accused of hiding drugs she didn’t know about, and she escapes the arrest. To avoid being taken in custody, Anya goes to an orphanage claiming she’s fifteen, and there she meets Kristine, a thirteen-year-old girl, who is bullied by other inmates. Anya defends her, and Kristine began to trust Anya. When Kristine tells Anya that she knows a secret way out, Anya runs away one day, only to find Kristine following her, pleading to take her to her grandma in Kazakhstan. Thus begins the voyage to Kazakhstan, with very little money between them. They had to hitchhike. On the way, Anya receives a call from Andrey, that all charges against her were dropped and she should come back to the uni. Thus begins the clash between the two characters, both desperate to find a tie, a sense of belonging and being loved — Anya, in her lover and Kristine, in her grandma. Anya tries to send Kristine to Kazakhstan in a train but fails. Through various dramatic sequences, it emerges that these two girls needed each other, more than they agreed to admit. But when Kristine said to Anya, she refused to admit it, resulting in Kristine running away and hitchhiking alone in a car leaving Anya behind. After a day of searching for her, Anya finds her alone, walking along the snow covered road in the upcoming winter. Anya finally realises how much she loved Kristine and decided to travel to Kazakhstan. Then in a sudden twist of fate, as they waited for a car, a drunk driver skids and hits the shed where Kristine was resting, killing her instantly. Anya in her grief realised that she’d become an orphan again, and lost the only human being who loved her unconditionally. The film then shows resolute Anya telling Andrey that she’s not coming back, and finally reaches the village in the Altai mountains. Kristine’ grandmother mistakes Anya to be Kristine, and Anya carried on with the lie, to finally find a place to call home.

Ya ne vernus a magical film, despite its dark and sad undertone. A number of scenes were truly emotional, and Polina and Vika made those instances realistic as though the tension between them was palpable. Instances worth specific mention are the time when Anya leaves a howling Kristine in the cemetery petrified of the wolves, or when Kristine kept asking Anya to admit she loved her but Anya kept refusing. Perhaps the most heart-rending scene was when Kristine suddenly dies. With the two girls finally agreeing to go to Kazakhstan, and the viewers expecting a journey to Kristine’a grandmother for a happily ever after, the suddenness of her death left us speechless. Perhaps Anya’s grief in the film moved at a faster pace than the viewers realising that Kristine, the eccentric and dreamy teenager is actually dead. No miracle is happening, Anya won’t be taking her to a farm where Vika would be treated and recover.

Yet, despite the dreary backdrop throughout the film, it also highlights the strength of a relationship. The mythical interjections in the film, mostly by the dreamy Kristine, gave the film a fantastic aura. These short intervals of fantasy take the viewers’ attention away from the harsh reality of the central theme. Scenes like Kristine introducing herself to Anya telling there are an eagle and a dog inside her who talk to her all the time, or that she had wings but they were broken and she couldn’t fly anymore because God only gives you wings once. We’ll remember Kristine pouring soda on the road so the road sends them a lift, and that of the swan and the girl kept us hoping that there is something positive happening to these girls. We see the relationship between Anya and Kristine evolve with a background of the out and about places in Russia, captured by the fabulous cinematography — from a busy city to the Altai mountains, from a dark, snow-laden cemetery at night, to busy service stations. The film presented slices of Russian life and culture through various imageries, perfectly blended into the storyline, such as the tale of the swan, as they walked past a deserted lake. As much as the unforgettable character portrayals of Polina Pushkaruk and Vika Lobacheva, the cinematography by Tuomo Hutri was a treat.

“There was a girl in the orphanage. One day she ran away from everyone. She came across a lake and saw a swan. She asked the swan to take her away. So the swan picked her up in his beak and flew away. The swan put the girl in his house. But he went away to see his kids and the girl saw him less and less. One day the girl jumped in the water. But she didn’t drown and turned into a fish. The swan came back and couldn’t see the girl. He began to cry. The fish-girl could see the swan but she couldn’t speak to him. From that day, the fish would come up to the surface every day and see her swan cry”

However, it’s the the relationship between the characters of Anya and Kristine — the turmoils and their love, is the tour de force in Ya ne vernus. Anya’s character is shown as an intelligent young woman, finding her place in the world putting the life in the orphanage behind her. However, as much as she appeared confident in professional life, she seemed helplessly desperate in her personal life. She was looking for stability throughout the film, and that’s why knowing that she had no hope of getting Andrey leave his family for her, Anya clung on to him. Her only hope, still, was to stay in the city she was living and pray that Andrey leaves his wife and family one day. Until then, at least she can still be in an affair with him. Kristine, on the other side, had nothing in the city. She has no relatives, she’s bullied by all the inmates of the orphanage. All she had was a small tin box, inside which was a crumpled photo with an address of a remote village in Kazakhstan, where her grandma lived. Living in a shelter knowing that she had a living relative made her flee one shelter to another until she met Anya who, unlike others, was ready to stand up to anyone harassing Kristine. Kristine saw her like a big sister, she felt loved and cared for. And she felt secure. But her ultimate goal was to reach Chemolgan, the village in Kazakhstan where her grandma lived. It appeared as though one of these girls will have to make a sacrifice or will be separated forever. If Anya goes to Kazakhstan, she’ll never see Andrey again, and if she went back to the city, Kristine will not see her Grandma. It was as if the destiny was playing a cruel roulette with their fate, where whichever path they chose, they will lose one significant person in their life. The director Ilmar Raag depicted through some unforgettable scenes how Anya opened up her feelings towards Kristine, and that the feeling she felt towards Andrey was slowly fading away.

Polina Pushkaruk was phenomenal in portraying the role of Anya but it’s the young Vika Lobacheva who stole the heart away of the viewers. She made the character of dreamy and feisty Kristine very real to the audience. It was amazing acting by a young actor and I wonder why she wasn’t nominated for the best young actors. I was surprised to find out later that Vika Lobacheva actually spent a large part of her childhood in social care. Ya ne vernus is an exceptional film, magically woven by talented Ilmar Raag and supported by the lead actors Polina and Vika. Adding the cinematography featuring the vast expanse of the Russian countryside, it made I won’t come back one of the phenomenal films I’ve watched recently. Many would argue that this may be classed as a road movie, but I’d strongly oppose that notion. It’s true that a large part of the film is about the journey for the two women towards Kazakhstan, but it’s much more than a road movie — it’s a tale about finding home and love. To me, it was a fable, a string of magical moments joined together to a bleak storyline. I’m glad that I made the choice to watch Я Не Вернюсь (Ya ne vernus) over the other films I was tempted by, or else I would have missed this rare gem. It was a lesson, that sometimes it’s worth following a hunch, and not just for choosing which films to watch.

Sources:
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Blogs, Expedition, History, India

General Zorawar Singh – a picturesque ode to Wanderlust

With the advent of WhatsApp started the great integration. Or cellphone reunion we may say. Old class mates, friends from the old neighbourhood, colleagues — everybody started to form small groups and talk about good old days as if we all hate the present. Although the most people talk in those forums, mostly male members, are jokes, some random photo or video, and rarely about anything actually to do with the common interest of the group. One such group is formed by the alumni of the college I attended, to do my engineering. A senior alumnus has a passion for photography and posted links to a few photography competitions he entered. His photographs are exceptional, and naturally, some alumni suggested why doesn’t he start a blog. These days everybody is trying to write something – including me. Anyway, one of the alumni, while asking about the blog, cited a site, suggesting a blog about that theme. The blog was by a certain Amardeep Singh, and that’s where I first heard of Zorawar Singh.

It was a captivating tale. When a story starts with finding human skeletons by a lake in the Himalayas at a high altitude, you cannot stop reading. If it was a book, I’ve have used the adjective ‘unputdownable’. A general in Maharana Ranjit Singh’s army, Zorawar Singh was ranked a General at an early age, he carried out successful expeditions in Baltistan and Tibet, winning strategic locations from Afghan and Tibetan armies, which still is of geo-political significance for India’s borders with Pakistan and China. The most important one was, of course, Ladakh valley, which the author’s claims would otherwise have been a part of China at present. The blog was perfectly paced, rich with details about General Zorawar Singh’s exploits at such high altitude and inclement weather situations. The time span covered is from 1835 to December 1841, when Zorawar Singh had fallen in the hands of the Tibetan army.

It was a captivating piece of history. Yet, what inspired me the most was the ending phrase – Not all those who wander are lost. I’ve heard it before but put into the context of the expeditions of General Zorawar Singh in the vast emptiness of the Tibet valleys made the phrase a thousand times more profound. Considering the blog is mainly a photo blog, presenting snippets of history with many pictures taken by the author, the phrase delved into the realms of imagination, the other side of the Himalayas, Silk Route, gateway to the Central Asia. Parts of the world I’m immensely interested about. Amardeep’s blog rekindled the passion for exploring the world off the beaten track. And somewhere I felt a pang of jealousy for him, for successfully pursuing his conquest of following the footsteps of General Zorawar Singh, trying to solve a mystery learned from a school teacher thirty years back. And finally learning that those skeletons date back to 9th century meant that he actually found something he Wasnt looking for, reminiscent of the ending of The Alchemist. His wanderings have certainly not been lost, and I’m just playing my part to spread the tales of his amazing expedition.

Thinking about the conquests of General Zorawar Singh made me think of the history from another perspective. Looking at the landscapes snapped by Amardeep, paired with the description of Zorawar Singh’s expeditions in the treacherous terrains evoked the expeditions of Hannibal through The Alps, and Leonidas as Thermopylae, or in more recent times Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose reaching Aizawl through Burma. The expeditions led by extraordinary men are characterised by going against the tide, almost like a lone ranger. Yet, the annals of these significant deeds remained silent in the Indian history books. Maharana Ranjit Singh and his regime have been barely touched when I completed my history curriculum, but nearly 25 years later, education curriculum is certainly more biased than ever before. At least the regional schools provide some exposure to the regional history, and let’s hope that the significance of General Zorawar Singh is not forgotten in his own land, although the Tibetans remembered his valour by making a cenotaph in his memory after he was fallen in 1841. So let’s raise a toast to General Zorawar Singh, and to all those souls driven by the wanderlust, those who wander but are never lost…

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