Chapter 1

The date was later shortened to 11-08-19; after what had happened, and how they never wanted to be reminded of it.

Death of one Mohammad Ali Zameer. Aged 15 years. No known reasons. Pre-existing Type-1 Diabetes suspected.

Lived by family, friends — more like everyone who knew him.

No one seemed to want to know the reasons for the death of one tenth grader, fifteen year old teenager. And why should they, when knowing the reason for death wouldn’t bring someone back to life, would it?

This was, in reality, pretty useful; how much evidence pointed to him being dead, especially his diabetic condition.

“Looks like we’ve got ourselves an ideal subject,” said the Vincent, a tall man of around forty-five years or so. He carried a brutal scar that almost defaced him, and seemed to hold it with pride.

The Vincent turned the limp body slightly, running his roughened hands against the soft body in lying in front of him. He could feel a distant warmth from deep inside.

“For a change, there doesn’t seem to be much resistance, don’t you think?” called out the Vincent, craning his head slightly to look at a younger man who gave off the air of a scientist.

“Y-yes,” stammered the man. He seemed to be petrified. “But we’ll have to bring his consciousness to normal to verify.”

The Vincent nodded in the slightest fashion, and said: “Yes, go ahead.”

The man stammered again; “But sir, before that, y-you might just have to stand aside.”

“Oh, of course,” said the Vincent coolly, stepping out of the vicinity and revealing the body of a limp body of a teenager.

“But sir, this is just a—” began the man, but the Vincent cut him midway.

“No questions. Just do as you’re told.”

The man quivered slightly at the slight glint of metal in the shadow, and knew that it was a gun.

The man quickly forced his mind to work; he’d definitely be killed and replaced otherwise.

“Running out of patience here,” chided the Vincent.

The man finished off with the final checks. Yes, good to go. He pulled on one slider, and watched the pipe that fed the boy’s IV be filled with a reddish-blue liquid.

“He’ll talk now,” quivered the man. “Just a few more seconds, and we’re good.”

“Oh, but I’m sure you won’t, my good friend,” said the Vincent, voice oozing with contempt.

“You know I won’t,” quivered the man again. The Vincent was walking out of the shadow where he was hiding. The gun was now in the light, and it was smoking slightly.

“Well, can’t ever be less sure,” said the Vincent. “It was good knowing you, my good sir.”

With this, the Vincent progressed into the lit room. Not witnessing, or perhaps anticipating what was happening.

But nothing could be done to change what had happened. The fact remained that the Vincent had unloaded one bullet into the scientist’s abdomen, and given how equipped the room was, the scientist had only about one minute more to live.

It was perhaps more useful to cry and repent for sins, instead of fighting a losing battle with approaching death.

———————————————————————————————————————————

The boy, Hari had been divining what his best friend’s post-mortem might just have looked like. And felt all the worse for it.

He hadn’t been there, the day the news was announced in the assembly at school, but had instead been informed by his father. Silently, he was glad: how much he cried at that time, he didn’t really want anyone else to know.

Unable to help himself, his mind was flashing all his memories of his — dead — friend. The last day he ever saw him was the last Thursday, on the day of the field trip.

His eyes welled with tears. Remembering him — that was always a very painful experience, that always made him feel so lonely. It was him who had acknowledged Hari, some two years ago. And now, just when everything couldn’t have been worse, the news had reached his ears.

This is life, his father had said. It will happen to everyone one day: if you are crying for him, then yes — he lived a good life.

Yes, he definitely lived a good life: but he had died not knowing so much about it. He had spent all his time studying, playing basketball, or watching anime.

Hari looked up, and felt the first cold drops of rain fall on his cheeks, and in the shadow of dusk, it may have just been more tears.

No, it was just the rain. Rain that quickly drenched his short black hair, forming rivulets down his roundish face, and mixing with the tears that were spouting from the boy’s blackish-brown eyes.

It ran down his shirt, giving him a slight jerk, but in its own way, comforting him.

Hari tried thinking about how many people may be doing the same thing that he was; crying like a baby, getting wet in the rain.

No, it was just him; everyone else was either running to cover, or pulling out umbrellas from their bags. The thought comforted him slightly.

———————————————————————————————————————————

There were many ways to deal with grief, realised Tejas, looking from afar at Hari — there were people like himself, who broke down so much on the first day, and then seemed to be able to move on; and then there were people like his friend, who, even after everything, just couldn’t get over what had happened; but still held a neutral expression to the happenings.

Tejas fidgeted absent-mindedly on the cap of his spray-can — he desperately wanted to create something; something that could somehow get rid of his grief. Yet, at the same time, something about his old friend, Ali.

A thought struck him suddenly, and he picked up his black pen and began to sketch out a tag that would, in time, remind himself of Ali. He pulled off his glasses as he worked.

It was strange, how working on paper seemed to reduce the stress and grief. It was strange, too, as if that were the case, then writer’s block would never exist, wouldn’t it?

But to Tejas, that wasn’t important. Once he was finished, he would find a nice, secluded spot where he may be able to make his mural. And he had already decided; the lower basement of the apartment complex. How convenient.

———————————————————————————————————————————

Then there was Vishwa, the — well — tall dude. He was playing basketball with Saaransh, who didn’t seem to really understand why the two of them were even playing.

“—Say, how do you think Hari and the others are holding up?” asked Vishwa — trying to sound calm, but the shakiness in his voice was more or less evident.

“That doesn’t really matter,” replied Saaransh in a matter-of-fact tone. “How about you?”

No reply from Vishwa. Saaransh wiped off the sweat with his shirt, and adjusted his glasses to take a look at Vishwa. Yes, in the shadow of the sun, Vishwa did indeed seem to be crying slightly.

“—Oh crap, forget I asked,” said Saaransh apologetically. “I shouldn’t have.”

Silence again. Saaransh felt all the more depressed; just being with someone mourning was not a pleasant experience.

“You know what, we should probably just text them all, and get them together,” said Vishwa finally. “That would be nice, I guess.”

“Yeah, it definitely would,” commented Saaransh, slightly relieved hearing Vishwa talk to him.

———————————————————————————————————————————

As life would take it, not everything goes as someone hopes — or plans, to be more accurate.

When the boy had been brought back to full consciousness, he showed none of the expected symptoms — instead of obedience and acceptance of whatever information he had been given, the boy was being too questioning, and tried to reason out everything that he had been told.

The Vincent had been resisting every temptation to just wrench off the boy’s neck, and get another subject. But, in one deep corner, he knew that doing so would only mean more repeated tests.

“Now, I’d like you to be a bit understanding, and hopefully, a bit quiet until I finish whatever I have to say,” repeated the Vincent.

“—But wait, you still haven’t answered my question — amn’t I supposed to be dead or something?”

A foolish question. “So, would you rather I just shoot you now, so that you can return to heaven?” asked the Vincent softly, his fingers rolling around the exposed barrel of the gun in his pocket.

Silence. “No, please go ahead, then,” was the boy’s response.

“Now, if you don’t mind me asking, what was your name?” asked the Vincent.

“Ali,” came the spontaneous response. “And mind, it still is. And if you don’t mind my asking, why am I wearing my school uniform?”

“Ah, I — see,” said the Vincent, trying to hold back his shock; the boy shouldn’t have remembered anything that happened. “So — Ali — tell me, how old might you be?”

“Fifteen,” said Ali, rolling his eyes, and clearly running out of patience. “And if you’re curious, I even remember what homework I have today. And what even is the point of all this?”

That was the one thing the boy just couldn’t know. At any cost. The Vincent knew that he would have to bear all insults thrown at him, and refrain from telling the boy more than what he should know. He balled his fists tighter.

“Whoa there,” said Ali. “Are you going to fight me now? For no reason whatsoever?”

The Vincent found himself smiling. “You needn’t know the reasons. I’m just trying to check your reflexes and your speed.”

“When your target is a fifteen year old and also handcuffed to a chair,” snapped Ali. “You ain’t got the balls, sir. And you’re lying.”

“Is that a challenge?” asked the Vincent softly. Ali grinned.

“You bet.”

What happened next was a soft hissing sound, and the clamps on Ali’s hands were removed. He pushed himself out of the chair, massaging his wrists. He knew instantly that the place was bad news, and that he had to get out of there.

“You do know what is about to happen, right?” asked the Vincent.

“I get beaten up?” taunted Ali. “I don’t think so.”

The opponent had fallen for the bait. He lunged at Ali, as he had expected. The door was just about open. It was just going to be a run for it…

The Vincent almost had Ali, when he pushed himself against the wall, and sprinted as fast as he could. He ran up the staircase, taking steps three at a time, until he had reached the top-most floor. He looked through a window and saw an immense sand heap at the bottom, which opened out into the night-time traffic. He quickly identified where he was, and also found, in the far distance, the apartment complex where his friends lived.

So the only way out was jumping. Ali found himself a balcony on the same floor, and pulled one leg over the edge, when suddenly, a huge amount of pain flared in his other leg. He felt the source of the pain, and dug in his hands his own blood. He could barely touch where the bullet had entered his flesh, and didn’t want to do anything else.

“How about that, then?” asked a voice that Ali recognised to be the Vincent’s. “An open wound and sand—” he made a sound pantomiming terrible pain. “—oh, that’s going to hurt.”

“Are you doubting the resolve of a teenager?” demanded Ali.

“Why, yes,” said the Vincent silkily. “I’m doubting the resolve of a boy like you — right, what d’you all say these days — the balls to do something.”

“Well, my good sir, you’ve guessed wrong,” said Ali with a slight smile, pushing himself off the edge.

But then regretting his actions.

The Vincent had been right, after all; the pain was beyond torture. But he could stand, shakily though it was, and began to walk. No one seemed to show any resistance.

“Don’t stop him,” called the Vincent from above. “Let him go, he’s definitely earned the right to leave. But of course, he may just die before he reaches someplace safe.”

He now called out directly to Ali: “Remember that the one who laughs last laughs longest, my good man. But until then, have a good journey, and I hope you reach home safely.”

Ali cursed in his breath. Yes, it was getting harder as time passed; he couldn’t possibly return home in his condition — he know that the only option was to take some refuge, and some first- aid, as soon as possible. He kept on walking along the pavement and after an extent, just lost his conscious mind; he just kept on walking, until he finally fell down on paved ground, fainted.

He desperately hoped that someone would find him — and in the deepest of his heart he hoped that it was someone he knew.

———————————————————————————————————————————

Hari first observed a figure lying face-down, spreadeagled on the tiled floor.

It was almost invisible, hidden in shadow, if not for the slight shifting of the clouds above. Hari got up, and walked shakily toward the body, mopping his eyes with his sleeves.

Hari slowly turned the body on to the boy’s back, momentarily relieved listening to a dull pulse, but the next instant, he stepped back in a mixture of fear, shock and relief, at what he saw:

The boy wore glasses that had cracked: presumably by his fall. His hair was somewhat a mix of black and brown, leaning towards black, with a blank expression and shut eyes. He wore a white shirt and his tie was a bit off to one side. This wasn’t just a school uniform;

Not only did Hari now know that the boy was from the same school he went to, but he also knew who the boy was.

It was him. And that was what made it even scarier.

Mohammad Ali Zameer.

His best friend.

Hari knew that he had to take Ali home: and luckily, no one would be in at the time — not until eight, anyway.

He had now pulled Ali’s limp body on to his back, and stumbled on slowly.

Panicking at the wound on his thigh that only meant gunshot.

He had to get home: that was the only thought now. He would have to figure out the rest of the details later.

Right now, the priority was Ali.

He had gotten Ali safely into the elevator shaft, and tried to make him stand: but with no effect, as the body would either lean out too much up front, or at the back. Luckily, he had no others with him in that lift.

Hari quickly opened the door, and brought Ali’s body to sit down on the seat of the shoe-rack. He pulled off his slippers, and looked down at Ali’s black shoes: his school ones. He tugged at the laces, smiled slightly and said:

“Looks like I won’t be tying them together today.”

With both the shoes and the socks off, Hari pulled Ali’s body yet agin over his back, and walked along the hallway into the vacant bedroom. He let Ali lie down on the mattress, and sat there.

Now he had to — somehow — inform his parents and his friends on what had just happened.

No, that wasn’t important. He had to deal with the bleeding first.

Hari slowly tied a classic bandage around the wound, applying some alcohol on the wound first, hoping there wouldn’t be any further infection. He definitely didn’t know enough about what to do. It would only be temporary, until his mother reached home.

No, he thought suddenly to himself, reflecting at his old thought: too many people and it will create a commotion. Telling his own parents should suffice.

That thought led to another, fresh thought: Ali definitely didn’t live anywhere close to where Hari lived, so if he was here, assumed dead, then that meant —

Something had happened that forced everyone to believe that he died: but in reality, he escaped…

Hari shuddered. Maybe, came a voice in one corner of his mind, all this was just a lie, and that he was actually faking a death — but why, then, cut in another corner of his mind.

Sighing to himself, he lay back on the bed, accidentally hitting Ali’s face in the motion. Hari started suddenly, and turned to look if Ali was okay, and could nearly hear some words, quite inaudible and definitely incomprehensible. But hearing Ali in a way relieved Hari, who again lay back on to the bed.

“Well, this is a delightful mess, isn’t it, Ali?”

****

(End of Chapter 1)