Category Archives: Short Stories

The Witch’s Son

He found the boy huddled in the battered wooden closet, trembling at the sight of naked steel he held in his hand.

‘What is your name, boy?’ Juan asked of the boy. Bare-chested, with only a pair of patched-up breeches clasped around his thin waist, the boy looked not more than ten years of age.

Terrified, the boy opened his mouth, but no words came; his eyes still lingering on the long sword Juan wielded. All that managed to come out was the doomed sound of a hunted animal. Juan sighed and sheathing his sword, squatted besides the boy. “What is your name, son?” He reiterated.

The boy’s lips quivered, ’H..Henry, m’lord.’

“Ah, that is quite the regal name you bear, Henry.” Juan smiled kindly.

Henry responded with a sniff; the terror in his eyes had somewhat waned. The smile never left Juan’s face – it was a smile of persuasion, a smile to put the boy at ease. After several moments of silence, mustering his courage, the boy finally spoke.

‘Are you one of them?’

Juan who had been looking around at the shabby room, fixated his attention back on the boy. His stoic eyes stared into the innocent eyes of the child. ‘Yes,’ he replied tersely.

‘I saw it. She forbade me, but I still saw it,’ the boy said, his words echoing a strange detachment.

Juan said nothing.

‘They dragged her out and tied her to the pole. And then they set fire on it. She burnt and they laughed. A witch, they said, she was. A witch,’ the boy uttered in a hollow voice. ‘She had asked me to hide in the cabinet and not come out. But I wanted to see. And so I sneaked out and saw what they did to her. She forbade me, but I still saw it.’

The boy’s eyes held no emotion, neither of grief nor of fear; his countenance indifferent, except for a lone tear that streaked down his sunken cheek. Never had Juan seen such a pitiful, defeated existence. It was as if the boy knew what treachery fate had played with him.

Juan hesitated. He knew what he must do. Vermin cannot be allowed to live, he remembered the edict that was stamped on his mind. Yet he hesitated. He would have gladly slit the throat of a sorcerer, but this was just a boy.

Silence reigned for a while.

‘Do it,’ the boy whispered.

Juan was shaken out of his preoccupation.

‘Do it,’ he repeated; the boy no longer slurred his words, a curious boldness had swept across his frame.

Juan understood and unsheathed his sword.

 The boy was the witch’s son, after all.

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What would you do, if this was your last day on Earth?

Beep! Beep!

Half-dazed and bleary-eyed, Ali checked the text message that had interrupted his sweet sleep.

The text message read rather frustratingly:

“What would you do, if this was your last day on Earth?”

Another damned forward message, Ali cursed the sender and pushing the cell phone under his pillow, once again let sleep take over.

———-#———-#———-

He slammed the door of the car shut and pulled out of the drive that led to the beautiful bungalow grudgingly.

He had been sleeping peacefully, when as per usual his mother had to disturb him over some stupid errand to his Aunt. His mother refused to trust the servants with money, and expected him to deliver it safely to his widowed Aunt once a month. Although, annoyed and greatly pestered, he knew that it was pointless to argue with his mother.

And so he headed to his Aunt’s place, drowsy and lethargic.

He swore loudly as he approached a traffic jam on his way, and desperately tried to find a way out of the mass of clogged-up cars, but soon he had to surrender and slumping back into the seat, fumed in resignation.

He clicked his fingers in impatience on the steering wheel for the traffic-jam to clear and glanced around.

A silver Alto and a maroon Cultus flanked his car on either side. A lone man was seated in the Alto, smoking a cigarette, immersed in thoughts, while a family of five was travelling in the Cultus.

Despite the smoldering heat and the repeated honks of the numerous cars that trailed behind Ali’s car, the scene soon defrayed his tangled nerves. The man continued to puff without any remonstrance peacefully and young boys of the family riding in the Cultus playfully wrestled in the back seat. Their frolicking amused Ali and he smiled.

The traffic jam cleared a bit, and the Cultus moved ahead. A battered, roofless Suzuki took its place; its maddening horn dispelling any tranquility that Ali had felt previously. Irritated, he gazed at the contents strewn in the back of the Suzuki – a couple of metal fetters, a ramshackle refrigerator and several filthy plastic canisters. Likewise, its driver was in no way beautiful or clean. Unshaven, matted in dirt, the man seemed to have placed his hand on the horn and forgot to remove it. A most suspicious outlook, Ali thought wanly.

Dilapidated as it was, the Suzuki lurched ahead, and a Corolla substituted it. But Ali paid no attention to it. The cars ahead of him were showing no signs of moving in near future, and he felt tired and sleepy.

He could no longer see the Suzuki but he could still hear its insistent honks. He desperately wished the peace and comfort of his bed.

He leaned on the steering-wheel and in his exasperation, starting pushing the horn. His head pounded.

All of a sudden, there was a huge blast and the Suzuki jolted in the air in an eruption of flames. Ali, pushed back into his seat by the immense pressure of the galvanizing heat radiations, was pelted with clusters of broken glass. Burning smithereens of metal flew through the shattered wind-screen and fell on Ali, who cowered in fear, crying in pain as the intensely hot metal seared his flesh.

Blood-swathed, he tried to figure out what had happened, darkness stubbornly forcing his eyes shut.

But before oblivion descended on his conscious, he caught a glimpse of the scenario for a few seconds.

Fire, blood and smoke were all he could discern in the chaos.

———-#———-#———–

He read the text message again, dating back to the day of the Car-bomb installed in a refrigerator, that had claimed 10 lives and injured more than 50 people – whose only crime was that they had led ordinary, simple lives of their own.

“What would you do, if this were your last day on Earth?”

His hand straying to the plastered hanging flesh, where his right leg had once been situated – several glass shards had ripped into his leg, triggering such necrotic infections that the doctors had no choice but to amputate it so as to prevent the spread of infection and hence, shoo death away – he pressed “Reply” and typed:

“I would pray that none has to go through what I’ve gone.”

———#———#————

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Fortune for Death

Hira walked slowly towards the tattered orange pavilion in the end of the carnival. It was neither gaudily decorated nor flamboyantly lighted – but rather the torn exterior of the tent gave Hira the creeps and she folded her arms in a protective embrace.

But she was curious. The board outside the tent eerily proclaimed it to be “Fortune for Death.

Fortune for death? – She chuckled to herself. Let’s see how fraudulent these guys turn out to be, she thought sneeringly.

Her arms wrapped around herself, she approached the tent and pulling aside the flap, walked into the pavilion.

It was odd. It was nothing stereotype – no orbs hanging from the roof, no sinister draping on the walls and no wizened old lady clasping a crystal ball wheezing,” Come, young lady, let’s peer into your future!”. The walls were black – and a pungent smell was dominant in the tent. The floor was covered with a bedraggled carpet and the roof was dark, impermeable. The entire interior held an uncanny feeling about it – as if something about it was not right, as if something lurked in the shadows of its interiors.

Hira didn’t panic. She was sure that the tent was meant to be like that – all spooky and mysterious. But she wasn’t about to fall in their attempt to scare her off! She would wait for the proprietor and see what mysterious ruse he would employ to tell her the future.

Suddenly, she heard footsteps from behind; she jerked out of her contemplations and slowly turned back – her eyes fearful, but when she saw who it was, she breathed a sigh of relief.

It was the proprietor. He donned lurid red pantaloons and a bright yellow shirt. The brightness of his presence dispelled all her fears – she was just being stupid, she decided as she glanced at the proprietor. She sniggered at the thought that this man would be telling her future – he was more befitted to perform in the ring.

“Welcome to Fortune for Death. I’m the proprietor of this pavilion,” his voice echoed in the dark tent,” My name is Isaac.”

He smiled. It was a wide toothless grin – and the grin coupled with his white fluffy hair and wrinkled skin made him look like a very amiable clown.

Hira smiled back. “My name is Hira and I would like you to tell me “my fortune for death!”

The clown swung his head to one side and laughed a rambunctious guffaw.

“So curiosity did kill the cat, eh?”

She was a bit taken back at his choice of phrase, but continued to smile.

“Hmm. So we would have to get back to work, don’t we?” He sighed.

“Ah,  let’s see you can sit here, young lady,” Isaac proffered a dusty seat to Hira and then clambered on a wheeled chair and rolled himself towards her – all the time, beaming eerily.

“Um … How much would it cost me?” Hira asked as the man closed towards her.

“100 Rs, young lady.”

Hira pulled out a hundred-rupee note and handing it over to the clown began to wait for him to do some hocus pocus or some other weird antic and – tell her the future.

The clown stashed the note in one of his many pockets and then fiddling about one of his pockets, took out an elaborate pack of tarot cards.

Ahan, so he’s going to tell me future with the help of cards. Interesting … Hira thought.

“Pick one, lady,” the clown said, as he rapidly shuffled the cards and fanned them open.

Hira tapped her finger on one card – which the clown pulled out and closed the cards once again.

He lifted the card to his left eye, such that its elaborate cover now faced Hira. Hira watched, amazed by his course of action.

His right eye momentarily twinkled. Hira frowned.

“You’ve chosen a card of Past,” Isaac said, and then turned the card which exhibited a black crow,” As you can perceive, it’s a Black Crow or Hypograyes – the avatar of misfortune. I presume you’ve once in your past undergone an accident that changed your life entirely?”

Hira was shocked. How could he know?

She stammered a shaky yes.

The clown smiled serenely – it was an anomalous smile, a smile of secrecy.

The clown again shuffled the cards and released them into a fan.

He repeated,” Pick one, lady.”

Hira hesitantly pointed to one card, which the clown yanked out and closed the remaining cards.

He reiterated what he had done before – raising the card to his left eye, pausing for a few moments, the perfunctory gleaming of his right eye and then lowering it down to reveal a – a venomous green serpent.

The clown chuckled softly.

“The card you chose now was the card of Present. It is the Serpentine or the Deceptive one. Were you not thinking, just moments back when you came into my enterprise, that it’s dark, ominous setup were only meant to spook you out?”

Hira was flabbergasted. How did this weird, freaky guy figure out what she was thinking even before he entered the tent?

“How did you g-get to know?” Hira stuttered; her eyes wide open in shock.

The clown swayed his head from side to side and smiled jarringly.

“You’re certainly the bravest person who has entered this enterprise!”

He said and lapsed into quiet chuckles – his chuckles mocking. Hira watched him warily.

He soon stopped chortling and once again pulled open the cards, reiterating for the third time,” Pick one, dear lady.”

Her finger trembling, she fingered one card – which the clown tweaked out and repeated the process that he had already done two times.

He flipped the card to show it to Hira.

It was totally black – nothing was inscribed or engraved on it. It was nothing.

Her mouth dry, Hira asked in a quivering voice,” W-what is t-t-this supposed to mean?”

The clown smiled broadly. It was a gut-loosening smile – slick with menace and lustrous with malevolence.

“The card you chose now was the card of Future. You chose Oblivion or the Apocalypse – the divine retribution.”

“Divine retribution?” Hilary shakily asked.

The clown laughed loudly. He didn’t stifle his laugh as he had done before – he did not fear now that he might make a lot of noise.

“Retribution for the sins that you would commit in the future – the reprisal of the Providence,” the clown breathed: he drew closer to Hira, who shrank back in fear.

“B-b-but why should I b-be p-p-punished for the sins I haven’t committed as yet?” Hira faltered in her speech, she was woebegone in fear.

“But you would be a sinner, young lady. You’re not a prophet that you would be absolved of all sin. No! You would sin and all sinners must die!” fervor had lodged in the eyes of the clown – he now resembled a vengeful disciple, a zealous partisan: a person who can kill for his beliefs without any scruples, a person whose destiny was swathed with blood.

Hira couldn’t speak – she was experiencing rigor mortis. Her arms and legs were stricken: she couldn’t move, she couldn’t scream for help. She kept cursing herself for entering the darned tent in the first place – if she wouldn’t have entered it, she wouldn’t be encountering this fanatic clown.

The clown kept staring at her with his paranoid eyes while he rummaged in his pockets.

“Ahan!” he shouted in glee – he had found what he had been looking for.

Hira cowered in fear.

He pulled out a sharp dagger. It had a disquieting blade that gleamed with menace – its iniquitous gleam poised to kill.

He brought it closer to Hira’s face and smiled wickedly – Hira whimpered and a tear rolled down her cheek.

She cried out,” P-p-please l-l-eave me! P-please d-d-don’t kill m-m-me! I beg of y-you! Please don’t k-kill me!”

The clown laughed raucously and clapped his hands in glee.

“Not kill you and let you go? Why else do you think this venture is called “Fortune for death?!” the clown gnashed his teeth and brought the blade almost an inch away from her cheek.

Hira sobbed,” P-please have m-m-mercy! Pl-lease leave me! Have m-mercy!”

“DON’T CRY!” he shouted savagely and stroke her cheek with its sharp edge – blood trickled down and dripped down her neck.

Hira’s eyes widened in horror and gulped as she eyed the blade fearfully: all the time trying to impede her tears that flowed down her cheek and amalgamated with the blood. Transparence effused with red.

Her eyes pleading and brimful of tears, she cried,” P-please don’t kill me. P-ll-ease!”

The clown stared at her sternly through his obsessed eyes, the dagger still raised.

Moments passed in trepidation.

Then, suddenly clown’s face relaxed and he started laughing uncontrollably; it seemed as if he was undergoing a fit of laughter – he clutched his corpulent stomach as raucous laughter issued from his mouth.

Hira looked at the clown in disbelief.

“Was this all a joke?” she asked incredulously.

The clown amid laughter cried out,” Of course! Why would I want to kill you?”

“All that you-would-sin-in-future was nothing but a hoax?” Hira asked and when the clown nodded, with tears of laughter in his eyes, she shouted indignantly,” You are raving mad! You cut me, you old geezer so that you could have a laugh! Here I had been thinking you would murder me!”

“I wouldn’t kill you, see,” the clown had stopped laughing, though his eyes twinkled.

Again his choice of words made her shiver.

“What do you mean?” Hira asked, panicking again as she stood up from the dusty seat.

“What would I mean except that I won’t be the one killing you!” the clown returned, a nasty smile played on his curled lips.

The clown rolled his seat backward and something leaped from the shadows – the presence of something that had instilled fear in her heart when she had entered the tent bounded towards her.

Hira throat choked, wound up in panic. Her eyes gaped at the thing that hurdled towards her, growling terrifyingly – its looming eyes glinting in the gloom of the tent. Whatever it was – she could feel its hunger for blood, its desire for her flesh.

It was almost on her – she could smell its reek.

Adrenaline pumped into her body at the moment – and she regained movement in her muscles. She made way for the opening of the tent.

She could yet escape. She could yet live. She thought desperately.

She heard the snarl of the beast as she eluded its grasp and bee-lined for the exit. She ran towards the flap.

She was about to reach out to her freedom when somebody blocked her way.

It was Isaac.

“You chose to come here yourself, lady. Its fortune for death!” he pulled out her hundred-rupee note and threw it on her face.

“Get out my wa —-“

Her sentence was left in mid-air – warm, saliva-coated fangs had sunk into her flesh.

She let out an indefinite croak and faltering, swooned on the floor.

Silence reigned in the room as Isaac watched the beast devour his customer.

He hummed “Fortune for death!” under his breath, not wanting to disturb the beast.

———-#————-#———

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“Nankurunaisa!”

“There’s so much to do. And there’s never enough time. I feel pressured and hassled all day, everyday, seven days a week….” complained Anwer Baig, as he flipped the pages of a diary frivolously.

8th August … where is it? I’d written in it myself! Where has it gone now!? For once, I’m running late for office and I can’t find the stupid things-to-do list! Where had I written it … Ahan!

Anwer Baig let out a cry of joy as he finally stumbled upon the 8th August list, though groaning as he glanced at the long list:

–          OFFICE WORK.

–         APPOINTMENT WITH MR. GHULAM MUSTAFA.

–          MEETING IN THE OLD CITY HALL.

–          SITE WORK.

–          BUY SHIRTS, SALE “CAMBRIDGE SHOP” 50% OFF, LAST DAY OF SALE.

–          BUY 3 KILO FISH, 2 KILO CHICKEN

–          BUY ITEMS FOR DOMESTIC USE, LIST ENCLOSED BEHIND.

–          APPOINTMENT WITH GHAURI ESTATE SERVICES’ DIRECTOR.

–          WEDDING OF SON OF MR HABIB, DEAL TO BE FINALIZED WITH HIM LATER, SO IMPORTANT.

–          BACK TO HOME.

Anwer snapped the black leather-bound diary shut, and flung it away, thinking that this was not to be one of his better days. Resolutely, and with great effort, he compelled himself to leave his relatively cool room, to bear the scorching heat outside.

Taking long strides in the torrid weather, he finally reached the bus stand, and joined the long queue, which patiently waited for the bus to arrive.

He marveled at his life.

He: who had secured straight A’s, who had procured a first-division MBA degree from SZABIST, now practically rotted in the battered office of a dilapidated airline?

“What did I do to deserve such a fate?” 

Perhaps I had lost the four-leaved clover when I stepped into the farce that we christen as the “real world?” … he thought ironically.

————#————#————

Anwer sat on the footpath.

Rain poured in torrents: the stifling heat preceding the storm had quite dissipated. The world was being washed, and so were the ambitions, hopes, dreams that Anwar Baig had ever cherished in his life.

He had been fired on the account of economic recession.

Though, he was an excellent worker, the authorities had told him, he lacked experience in comparison to his other colleagues and hence, he was being fired.

Bunkum! He who had been working for 2 years in the company, was slighted by a person who had just joined the airline a month back?

But then … he thought bitterly … I didn’t have an influential source behind my back.

———–#————–#———–

He had abandoned the footpath, and now strolled in the park that adjoined it.

The joyful cries of the children playing in the rain had shaken him out of his reverie. His attention diverted, he walked towards the children.

Particularly, his attention was fixated on a little girl who he had earlier espied watching him when he had established himself on the footpath, enshrouded in misery.

The little girl had been happily splashing in a puddle, whence her glance found him walking towards her.

She went rigid, her gaze frozen on him. Shades of hesitation crept up across her face.

She took a few steps back.

And, then a cheeky smile unfurled on her face and she cried out:

“It’ll work out, uncle!”

 “What did you say?” Anwer shouted back.

The girl laughed loudly, and cried again,” I said it’ll work out!”

And saying this, she turned and ran to join her friends who had attacked the swings.

A smile spread across Anwer’s countenance.

He’d wrongly believed that it was his fate that had landed him into the employment of a decrepit airline, that due to it he had lost his job … but, no, in truth his fate had had other thoughts for him.

Yes, he had to traverse a difficult path. Yes, he had to suffer through the humiliation of getting fired.

But he had learned a lot on this road: perseverance, value of hard work, tolerance to minor issues of life.

And, now fate had taught him his last lesson by the words of a little girl: how to get up when you fall down.

————#———-#————-

Note:  “Nankurunaisa!” is Japanese, meaning “It’ll work out!”

Home is not home without you …

“Amijaan, Papa is home! He is home!” shouted the child, as he flung himself on the newcomer, standing stolidly on the threshold of the door.

Upon hearing the child’s shout, an elderly woman bustled out of the kitchen, saying,” Ali, how many times do I have to tell you that Papa won’t —-“ She stopped in mid-sentence, frozen, as her shrewd glance found the new-comer.

“Ibrahim?” She uttered unbelievingly.

“Ami, Your son is back,” said the new-comer weakly, his eyes glinting in the shimmering moonlight, creeping in through the door, as tears welled in them.

The elderly woman, hurled herself into the arms of the new-comer, scolding shrilly her son now and then amidst sobs and cries: “O Ibrahim! Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you since ages! Why did you ever leave me alone, you naughty, naughty boy! You didn’t think how much anxious I’d been! No, you’d to go and leave your Ami and your child! O Ibrahim, why? Why? Why did you do so?”

The newcomer bent his face towards his mother, and pleaded softly, trying to reason with his mother,” I’m sorry, Ami, but I’d too. Prices are soaring high, Ali’s school has swelled its fees, the landlord has doubled the rent … I don’t know how I could have paid for Food, Education and Shelter from just 10,000 Rupees? It had become imperative for me to find a job in the city … or else we would have starved and you know I would never let it be so. Had the inflation not escalated so alarmingly, I’d have never left you … still, Ami I’m really very sorry,” and then added imploringly,” I hope you understand me, Ami.”

“I do understand you, my dearest,” returned his mother, as tears flowed steadily down her wizened cheeks, adding impulsively,” But, home is never home without you …”

————#—————-#————-

“Banwara mann dekhne chala ek sapna …” crooned the radio somewhere and I wondered:

 “Can we ever stop dreaming?” Dreams stab in the heart. Dreams wound the soul. Dreams puncture hopes. Yet we dream. Yet we hurt ourselves … But no … we don’t stop dreaming … we can never stop dreaming … never stop clinging to optimism … never losing hope till the last moment … never stop dreaming!

Thoughts after thought whirled through the failing mind of the shriveled lady, reclined in a couch. Beside her slept a child tranquilly, evidently unaware of the calamity that had struck his beloved father.

The withered woman clutched to a piece of paper tightly in her one hand, while the other hand clasped the remote of the television.

 The television had been switched to a news channel, which flashed consistently,” BREAKING NEWS!” blaring the following headline:

“BOMB BLAST IN KARACHI. GREAT POLITICAL LEADER HANIF DANDI ASSASSINATED. 37 REPORTED DEAD, 19 INJURED. THE CHIEF-INSPECTOR HAS CONFIRMED THE BLAST TO BE SUICIDAL.”

The piece of paper slipped from the woman’s hand, as she drifted to sleep, exhausted by her own train of thoughts, falling lightly on the matted, moldy carpet. The glass lantern cast its intermittent light on the paper, which read:

 Dear Ami, You are aware of our poverty-stricken conditions. It is our destitute state that has forced me to take this step. Do pray for my clemency, for the step I’m going to is unforgivable in the eyes of the Providence. I shall miss Ali. I love you, Ami.

Yours affectionately, Ibrahim

PS. Inside is enclosed a cheque of 5 Lakhs, the price of the step I’m going to take. Use it well.

———-#————#———

As the mobile beeped, Mr. Asghar looked at the caller id and swore loudly.

He received the call and asked gauntly,” Report me?’

“The work has been done, sir. Open your television,” returned the caller in calm tones, his calmness most agitating to Mr. Asghar.

Consequentially, Mr. Asghar did as the caller bid him to do, his face beaded with drops of perspiration. With fumbling hands, he opened the television. Every sign of apprehension, agitation, impatience and annoyance vanished from his face, as he read the headline.

“Congratulations. You have done your work well,” said Mr. Asghar joyously, as he settled himself in a comfy pouf, his face bearing a triumphant smile, as he had finally got rid of his worst political rival.

“The entire work went remarkably smooth. You see, I’d got hold of an agile one this time.” replied the caller callously.

“How much did he cost?” asked Mr. Asghar, inclined to pay as much as the caller asked, as his most precarious obstacle to the Seat of President had been removed, and so made his way to the Presidential House more unproblematic then ever.

 “5 Lakhs. He came off cheap,” replied the caller, further adding with a nefarious laugh,” He seemed desperate for money.”

“Isn’t that too less? I mean he was giving away his life, you should have paid him more,” said Mr. Asghar, ill at ease.

“Boon for boon. He gave away his life, I paid him 5 lakhs … and that is enough,” said the caller cruelly, adding cold-heartedly,” I didn’t force him. He volunteered himself. Anyhow, population growth has been troubling our country since few years. One person less, does count. Therefore, we should celebrate as we’re trying to solve our blasphemed country’s problems and fighting against overpopulation.”

Mr. Asghar laughed and said,” Your reasons are always so sound. Let us celebrate tonight.”

———–#———–#———–