” I Talk To Shadows, They Respond..”
Written for J. I. Rogers’ Six-Word Story Challenge “Darkness”
” I Talk To Shadows, They Respond..”
Written for J. I. Rogers’ Six-Word Story Challenge “Darkness”
Edwards untied Alain from the bed. He went towards the door and opened it. He looked at his first-mate, Gracht, who had been waiting outside after knocking on the cabin door. On seeing Alain standing behind Edwards, he looked at Edwards quizzically.
“Mr. Gracht, I fear this is no reef that we have hit. Send word to the crew, to get ready for battle. “, said Edwards, giving no explanation about Alain’s presence.
Gracht showed a hint of surprise on his face. But being the loyal first-mate that he was, he did not question his Captain further. He turned and made his way to the deck.
“Alain, let’s go check up on our friend Jach shall we?”- said Edwards, turning towards Alain.
Alain nodded in agreement. They made their way towards Jach’s room. Edwards drew his flintlock as they approached the door. Edwards knocked on the door.
“Jach, are you in there?”
Edwards got no response. He knocked again.
A crew member ran up to Edwards and Alain.
“Sir, Mr. Gracht needs you on the deck.” He said with a sense of urgency.
“We will be there shortly. “, responded Edwards.
He quickly added –
“Have you seen Mr. Jach by any chance?”
“Yes, he is on deck with the rest of the crew.”
Edwards and Alain looked at each other and followed the crewman hastily to the deck. Sure enough, they spotted Jach. He was looking towards the sea. To Edwards, it looked as if Jach almost knew this was coming. His face showed no surprise or fear, unlike the other members of the crew. Jach noticed the captain and Alain walking towards him.
“Ah, captain, I was looking for you. Where were you? “
Removing his flintlock, Edwards aimed it Jach’s face.
“Stow it Jach. I am onto your game.”
Jach seemed surprised.
“Game, what game? Captain, I don’t understand what you are talking about.”
The crewmen grew alert to the situation. Gracht came up behind his captain.
“Captain, what are your orders?”
“Get two men to guard him, right now.”
Gracht motioned to two crewmen standing behind Jach. The moved up next to him, one on each side and held him by his arms.
The ship began quaking again. Edwards addressed his crew.
“Men, we have braved many perils together. It is another peril that we must face right now. In a few moments there are things that are going to attack us. People that dwell in the sea. They are going to be here for blood. I say let’s give it to them. Let us make these waters a sea of their blood. Draw weapons. “
Roused by the words of their captain, the crewmen drew their weapons. Rusted cutlasses, fish pikes, and flintlocks were their weapons of choice. They were all fishermen by profession, but every last one of them, had been tested in battle before. They were no strangers to battles.
Edwards aimed his flintlock at Jach again.
“Mr. Jach, Alain has told me everything about your kind.”
Jach’s face showed genuine surprise.
“Now tell me. What have your people got to do with me? Why am I a part of this equation?”
Jach continued looking surprised.
“I really do not understand this question Captain Edwards. What are you talking about?”
Edwards’ face developed a stern look.
“Do not play dumb with me. All your friends from underwater have plans. What are they? Alain told me there is a plan.”
Jach’s face turned pale.
“Alain told you.”
He looked at Alain.
“I get it now. You are with them. You were spying on me. Weren’t you?”
Alain smiled coldly.
“Yes, I was. Captain Edwards, let me kill him now. Before the others arrive.”
Edwards steadied his aim.
“Now Mr Jach, tell me the truth.”
“Captain, believe me. I do not know what he is talking about. I only wanted to get to Veluise Islands, which is why I decided to come along with you. In fact, I did not even know the directions. Alain gave them to me.”
It was now Edwards turn to look surprised. He turned around to see a shocked expression on Gracht’s face and long-knife coming out of his stomach. The knife belonged to Alain, whose face had a devilish grin on it, baring his sharp teeth.
Edwards aimed his flintlock at Alain.
“You were the traitor, not Jach. I will kill you now. “
Alain sniggered from behind the cover that Gracht’s lifeless body provided.
“That is an astute observation, Captain. But I fear it is a bit too late now. Kill them all. ”
At that moment, a dozen dark forms sprung onto the deck from the ocean. They had moved so fast, the crewmen had hardly noticed. The deck instantly broke into a battle. The Merfolk and crewmen went at each other with all they had got. Even though the crew outnumbered the sea-men by a huge margin, their larger numbers were easily kept at bay by the amazing speed and skill of the sea-men. It was an even battle.
Amidst the frenzy, Jach broke free of his captors and made his way to the edge of the deck. Alain followed in close pursuit. Alain managed to corner Jach.
“You can stop now Jach. We have you right where we want you. There is no escape”
Alain drew his knife and started walking slowly towards an unarmed Jach. Just after a couple of steps, Alain heard a loud bang, followed by an immense pain in his stomach. He looked down to see blood pouring out of a hole in his stomach. Clutching it, he turned around to see Edwards holding his flintlock, gunpowder smoke rising out of it.
“It would seem you have nowhere to escape, fish-man. “ – Edwards said with a grim look on his face.
Alain rested his knee on the floor, the wound sapping his strength by the second. Satisfied that Alain was of no more threat, Edwards jumped back into the fray.
The battle went on for a good twenty minutes. Bodies lay everywhere on the deck. The dead lay in a pool of blood, human blood as well as Merfolk blood. The Merfolk had been excellent fighters, managing to handle such a large number of people. But in the end, the sheer numbers had overwhelmed the Merfolk. Edwards himself had slain three out of the twelve assailants. Half of the crew of The Titania lay dead. Most of the ones alive had some or the other injury. Edwards ordered his crew to make a hasty turn around.
After the ship had turned, Edwards made his way back to the semi-conscious Alain. He had fallen down, with his back to the floor and had lost a lot of blood. Edwards reckoned he did not have much time to live. But he couldn’t let him die without getting answers to his questions. He threw some water on Alain’s face and brought him back to full consciousness.
“Fish-man, I have a few questions for you and I am in no mood for long stories now. Make it quick. I want to know everything. What have your people got to do with me? Speak fast. “
Alain coughed, spitting out blood. He spoke in a breathless voice.
“All you humans are so self-obsessed. You think everything in this world is related to you. It isn’t. The truth is that you were just being used to get us to this location. Jach is one of those human-loving scum. I was indeed spying on him. He had gained information that my people were up to something in the Veluise Islands. He holds vital information about his comrades too. We needed that. So, me and my twelve soldiers, my sworn brothers, decided to capture him and extract the information from him, once he made it here. I gave him the directions to this place. That night, I was truly making sure nothing goes wrong for my men. But you intervened and took away our element of surprise. You, human were only a vessel to accomplish our goals, and we will accomplish them. What you did today, will only delay the inevitable. Your race will perish.”
Alain coughed again, and spit more blood out and lay motionless on the floor. Edwards gave Alain’s body a disgusted look.
“Men, dump the bodies into the sea. We cannot have rotting corpses on our ship. May the souls of our brothers find peace. ”
The crewmen followed their captain’s orders. They said their last words for their friends while dumping their bodies into the sea and following that, they tossed the bodies of the Merfolk. Edwards watched as the bodies sunk into the sea. With Alain’s words still fresh in his mind, he knew he had a lot to talk about with Jach.
The bodies made their way slowly towards the bottom, lending more of their scarlet hue to the blue sea, with each passing moment. The sea soon turned red, sea of blood indeed. The bodies did not sink unnoticed. Hundreds of pairs of red, glowing eyes, peering from the dark marine depths, observed the bodies and the trail of blood left by the Titania.
(The End, for now)
Image courtesy : Rudhika
Alain’s story had been interesting till now. But, he had failed to explain anything about his motives, which gave Edwards no reason to trust Alain. He decided to leave Alain as he was, tied to the bed. Edwards removed his flintlock pistol from its position in his belt and placed it on the table, pointing in the direction of Alain. He placed is hand on the flintlock and looked at Alain –
“The story is nice. But, you had better get to the point now, fast.”
Alain glanced at the flintlock. Showing no sign of fear, he continued the story.
‘The teenage prince sunk rapidly, the chains bound to his body speeding up his descent. Mer held his breath. His vision started being invaded by darkness. His shock at being condemned to this fate was soon replaced by fear. His vision went completely black as his lungs finally gave in to the pressure. But instead of suffocating and drowning completely, Mer found it to be more pleasant under water than over it. He had no trouble breathing. His vision fully returned to him. He looked at his body. His elbows had developed prominent scales on them. The same could be said about his feet. He felt his neck. His fingers met with thin slits. Gills, he thought to himself. His body was still loosely bound with chains. His fear had now left him. It had been replaced with anger, a burning wrath against his father. He pushed out with his hands and to his surprise, the chains broke apart. This was a feat he could have never dreamed of performing before whatever it was that had happened to him. Free from his shackles, he scouted the area around him with his eyes. To his surprise, multiple pairs of peering red eyes looked back at him through the thick ocean flora. Slowly, hundreds of people began coming out of their hiding spots surrounding him. He looked around. All of them had red eyes and scales on their elbows and feet, just like him. He spotted features that seemingly matched his stable boy’s features, before he was drowned in the sea. He kept looking around and found several faces that were known to him. Then it dawned upon him. None of the condemned people had died. They were alive, just like him. The people had surrounded him now.
“It is Prince Mer. Let’s rip him apart. His father did this to us. “
A random voice said from the crowd.
Mer had always thought that talking underwater was impossible. But apparently, it wasn’t so.
“Yes. Kill him!”
More voices joined in.
Soon, the crowd began moving slowly towards Mer, their discontent clearly visible. Mer knew he had to put a stop this, or else his new lease on life would be a very short one.
“Stop! Listen to me. I know how you feel. I know you are all angry, angry with the King. Angry, that he abandoned you and condemned you, no us, to this fate.”
Mer paused. He looked around to check whether his words had been registered by the people. They had stopped moving towards him. Mer let his anger swell within him.
“I share this fate with you. My own father did this to me. And he will pay. I swear this to you. You, you are all my people. And I, Prince Mer shall lead you. Together, you and I shall crush the Kingdom of Veluise. I promise you, we will have our revenge. Will you share this revenge with me?”
A long pause followed. Mer had spoken with true feelings, and his speech was soon met with cries of approval. And from that day, Mer became the king of these people, and they came to call themselves – Merfolk.
Mer’s first order of business was to understand the extents of their new abilities, their strengths and weaknesses. Mer discovered that his people though much stronger inside water, could survive on the surface as well. As long as they were near the sea air, they would not die due to suffocation. However, they were not very physically strong without the presence of water. He also understood that their diseased bodies could only digest meat, even human meat. One of the amazing things Mer discovered was that a few of his kind could alter their physical features to look like normal humans for a short amount of time. They would manage to get rid of their gills and the red hue of their eyes. Mer felt this was most interesting and useful to his plan. He began training his people to fight as soldiers. He would need them for the war that was coming. He continued planning his revenge for many months, biding his time and waiting for the right moment to make his move.
The time finally came after thirteen months. The disease had been eradicated from the Kingdom of Veluise, and the king reigned over a peaceful time. Mer had carefully selected his time. At the night of the King’s birthday, the whole kingdom was in a celebratory mood. Taking advantage of the thin vigilance, Mer and his group of thirty best soldiers snuck into the royal palace. The hooded Mer made his way into the gala and approached the king. Mer taking his hood off, revealed his presence. Mer’s face was the last thing the old King ever saw, as Mer plunged a sword into his chest. His soldiers made quick work of the astonished royal guards. He went to the ramparts and lit a torch. His Generals recognizing this as the pre-planned signal launched their attacks. Merfolk began rising from the sea and attacking the island cities from all directions. The Veluise soldiers were caught unawares. It was a massacre. The unsuspecting people of Veluise stood no chance. A once great Kingdom had been turned into a mass grave.
Mer returned to the sea. Even though Veluise was destroyed, his own losses had been heavy. More than half of his people were among the bodies littering the islands. Mer’s hatred had extended towards the rest of humanity now. A few of his subjects did not agree with his actions. Realizing his cruel ambitions, they decided to not be a part of his actions. They decided to stand beside humanity and act against Mer.
I am one of their descendants. ‘
Edwards took a moment to register everything. He went up to Alain and cut the cloth near his elbow. The gills on his elbow glittered in the lamp’s light.
“You still haven’t told me what you were doing yesterday night”, Edwards said as he lifted his pistol.
“I was making sure things do not go wrong. We are in Merfolk territory now. Every night, I keep a lookout for those who dwell inside these seas. I know they are planning something big and it is related to you somehow. “
Edwards was bemused now.
“Me? And how do you even know about all of this? “
Alain smiled dryly.
“Captain Edwards, how did you find someone to navigate these treacherous waters so easily? A bit too convenient, I would say. I did mention that some Merfolk could change their appearance, to appear human like. “
Edwards understood now.
“Jach! “, he exclaimed.
“Yes, captain. Jach. I have been keeping an eye on him, working undercover to get wind of their plan for humanity. They – “
Alain was cut short by the impact of motion as the ship suddenly stopped. Almost instantly a knock sounded on the door.
“Captain Edwards, we seem to have hit a reef.”
Edwards looked at Alain with alarm on his face.
“They are here”, Alain responded with equal alarm.
It was early morning now. The rising sun was floating above The Titania, bathing it in much needed warm rays of light. Edwards glanced towards the sun. The red ball of light reminded him of the red eyes he had seen in the water yesterday night. They had appeared right next to Mr. Toobak’s body, peering from inside the water. They had appeared only for a brief instant, before they disappeared into the watery depths along with Mr. Toobak’s body, sending chills down Edwards’ spine.
Word of Mr. Toobak’s sudden disappearance had spread fast among the crew, causing panic. The entire night had been spent in calming everyone down, and getting everyone back to their jobs. Edwards was tired already, but he knew the day was going to be a long one. He still needed to have a chat with Alain. After, the disappearance of Mr. Toobak’s body, Edwards had quickly dragged Alain to the Captain’s Cabin. He bound his hands and feet and tied a rag of cloth to his mouth. Leaving the man tied to the bed in that condition, Edwards had gone forth to inform the senior crew about the events. However, he had left Alain’s part out of the story, fearing that it would contribute to the panic. However, now that the morale of the crew had been stabilized, Edwards decided he needed to have a talk with Alain, a long talk. Edwards made his way to his cabin. He entered and locked the door behind him. He turned towards Alain who was still tied to the bed. Alain looked back at him with his red eyes, which in Edwards’ opinion, looked a lot more red now. He removed the rag of cloth. Alain coughed. The rag had dried his mouth, very visibly. Edwards poured some water into Alain’s mouth and sat in front of him, fixing his stern gaze upon the pale man.
“I need answers; now. Tell me what were you doing there at night? And more importantly, what happened to Mr. Toobak? “
Alain held Captain Edwards’ gaze.
“Well, Captain Edwards. Looks like I have got to tell a whole tale to you. Let me start at the beginning “
‘Many thousands of years ago, there existed a prosperous Island kingdom- the kingdom of Veluise. King Veluise II ruled his lands with an iron-fist. Without an heir for almost thirty years, the king was overjoyed when his wife, Queen Melvina gave birth to a child. The king was happy that he was blessed with a boy, the heir to the great kingdom. They named him Mer. However, the king’s joy was to be short-lived. When the prince was fourteen, an unknown disease started spreading in the kingdom. The people affected would show certain symptoms- red eyes and pale skin. They would soon find it difficult to breathe and succumb to the disease. People noted that this disease spread through contact or any exchange of fluid, making it highly dangerous. Soon, an epidemic broke out and as the death toll went on the rise, the hands of fear gripped the kingdom all the more tighter. Fearing for his people, the King decided to take extreme measures. He decreed that any person found to be affected by this disease would be tossed into the sea, fated to drown. Almost a year later, Prince Mer while on a hunting trip, came into contact with an affected person. And inevitably, he too started showing symptoms of the disease. His eyes reddened and he began growing paler by the day. The prince was bound in chains and was kept confined to his room. Being a man of his word, and fearing for the royal family, the king decided that the prince should be thrown into the sea, just like all the other diseased people. The King’s orders were swiftly followed. On a full moon night, the Royal Guard took the prince to the edge of kingdom that overlooked the great sea. The teenage prince was then thrown into the sea. The king himself saw the prince drown under the pale glow of the moon. He had sent his heir to a watery grave.
Or so he thought. ‘
All my pieces are in place. I have almost achieved what I had aimed for. The world will be mine. Soon. This is my story.
I was born in very turbulent times. There were frictions in my parent’s marriage. And they split up just after my birth. A family was something I had never had. My childhood was spent standing up to the various ‘white’ bullies in my neighborhood. I had learnt to hide from them. But I hadn’t forgotten the running and hiding. I remembered every single incident and it would not be forgotten, ever. Friends are something I couldn’t make. I could never bond well. That is when the idea struck me- ‘Why fit in? I could take over the world. Mould it as I pleased. Mercilessly.’ I knew that I could never hope to gain allies, someone like me. But I decided to use my ability to cause conflict and separations , to best effect. And so my quest began.
I started from my neighborhood. Chaotic times followed. I moved on from area to area influencing the inhabitants of not only rural areas but also densely populated areas , filled with the whites. But stealth had been my number one priority. My game would have ended if the whites had found me out. Every day my forces would grow. My followers would in turn influence more to my cause. My followers were my clones in every sense. They echoed my feelings, my thirst for take-over and my quest for dominion. It was years and years of planning and waiting, taking all the opportunities that appeared. Getting stronger and stronger , while at the same time avoiding detection. Detection would have jeopardized my entire operation and that is something I wouldn’t allow at any cost. It was indeed a long wait. Forty years. But now, I am strong enough. I am ready.
Like I said, all my pieces are in position. Even if the whites detect me now, they can do naught but make a vain attempt to stop me. The world is already mine. All I need to do is pull the final strings. The third stage of my plan is complete. I have won.
It was Friday evening. We had gathered at Simon’s house. His parents had gone out of town . Simon had wanted to try something new , and so we had gathered – Jane , Mark , Virginia and me. I knew what Simon had wanted to try. He had been pretty interested in it since a few days. As we waited in the dining room , he presented to us what he had wanted to try , an Ouija Board.
Simon placed the board on the dining table. Everyone sat at the table , encircling the board. I hung back. I was really skeptical about these talking boards. I had never once heard of an Ouija board actually doing the trick. But , I still liked watching people making their frantic attempts to contact the spirits with their eyes full of hope and fear. This was exactly how the people sitting at the table were feeling . Simon moved the planchette along the board , along all the alphabets , numbers and even along the yes , no and goodbye markings. The lights were dimmed and everyone was speaking in whispers. Simon instructed everyone to hold each other’s hands. He left one of his hands free to operate the planchette. Simon had been pretty confident about his knowledge of operating the board. He started calling out to the spirit world-
“ Hear me , o those who stay in the realm of the dead.”
No movement of the planchette.
“We wish to speak with you. Give us a sign that you are present among us. “
I found it amusing. There was no way any spirit would ever respond to something like this. But , Simon did not give up.
“Just give us a sign. Any movement on the board. “
No movement again.
“ Please, I really do believe in ghosts and spirits. I only want some proof. Please give me some sign. “
No movement, again.
Well, it was hopeless. After a while , even Simon began to feel so. He let go of the planchette and closed his eyes, dejected. The others at the table appeared a bit let down as well , but I suspect they were secretly pleased.
Everyone began to leave and started saying their goodbyes to Simon. I had known Simon for a while now and I did not like to see him dejected. I walked up to the table and moved the planchette from its position to the ‘goodbye’ marking.
Everyone gaped .
“ Hey Simon , I think it did work “ – they said.
The air reeked of a filthy stench. The stench – a mixture of smoke, blood and gunpowder , was the ever prevalent stench of any battlefield during the second world war. All soldiers were used to this stench just like a certain Corporal Gunn making his way through the war torn streets of Paris , the battlefield in focus. He and his remaining squad had been ordered to hold the invading German 4th Army division. The Intelligence Gunn’s squad had received , mentioned that the 4th Army was well trained and had great communication backup. However, the gradually closing cloud of dust suggested the report had been incomplete. The cloud of dust meant only one thing – Panzers, a foot soldier’s worst nightmare.
The squad waited, awaiting the next move of the Germans .The part of the city the squad was to hold had been bombed the same morning. This combined with the fact that Panzers were approaching informed the Allied troops that they were witnessing a Blitzkreig. As a confirmation to their informed guesses, mortar shells soon began to fall around their position. The squad held on undeterred. Gradually, the shelling started becoming more accurate. The Corporal ,who had never experienced this kind of shelling soon began to panic. On seeing his squad disappearing behind explosions he began to lose his nerve. He broke cover and ran toward the main road hoping to cross to the other side, and hide in the yet untouched buildings. He made a quick dash ignoring the boutade of concrete bits and dirt all around him. Just as he reached the main road, a shell exploded just behind him . The explosion knocked him clean off his feet and he landed face down on the main road. The moment he came to he realized his vision was still shaky and there was a deep rumbling in his ears. Lying on the road, he kept his eyes closed until he was sure his vision had returned to normal. He opened his eyes , his vision seemed alright, but the rumbling still persisted. He got up and turned to his left and then to his right, trying to understand his surroundings. The moment he turned right however, he realized his ears were alright, the rumbling had been coming from a Panzer heading straight towards him . The Panzer seemed to notice the Corporal and turned the cannon towards him- BOOM.
Gunn woke up with a start. He was covered in sweat. Just a dream. A very bad dream. He got up from his bed and made his way to the shower room. He turned on the tap to cold water and stepped inside the shower. Cold water always calmed him down. The war had ended 20 years ago. But, these dreams never ended. Some days they were bad and other days they were worse . He had repressed all his memories from those days , just so that those dark times wouldn’t continue haunting him. It worked during his average, quiet and uneventful day. Nights were a totally different story though. The dream he had just woken up from , had been really vivid. He decided to take his mind off things with a strong cup of Irish coffee. He decided to go fetch the newspaper. As he walked towards his front door , he intentionally ignored the portrait his wife had had put up.
The portrait of Corporal Dean Gunn.
The world is a very cruel place. Dark and desolate. Being born in such a world is bad luck in itself. But being me, well that’s just something more than bad luck.
My life is more or less a routine. My existence , a shadow. I go about each day, unnoticed and unheard , without most people acknowledging my presence. I feel at home in the shadows. At least, they shield me , make me feel welcome. People, most of them – sophisticated hypocrites , wearing a mask of civility to pass of as ideal citizens. Living a fake life. Not even such fakes acknowledge me. Where does that leave me? Friends – I never had many of them. Still don’t. I find that people don’t tend to stick around much. Family , I try hanging on to the people I love and people who have loved me and continue to love me still. But they continue to leave me to a life of near solitude. This cold solitude which I have become so used to. A void of silence. Every day, I think of giving up. Every day, I think of quitting. Every day , I unmake myself and carry on .
For every day, I remind myself who I am. A wraith – who can look upon people without them noticing me. A shadow that cannot be seen unless I wish so. An embodiment of the fear and hypocrisy the scum of this society feel. A person who keeps the darkness away from the light. A person who has few people he loves which make them all the more precious. Focused and analytical because of the lack of distractions. Yes , this who I am.
I am Batman.
When I was 3 , I was asked, ‘What is your favourite colour? ’ I said Purple . Like the shoes of clowns at the circus.
When I was 5 , I was asked, ‘What is your favourite colour? ’ I said , Black. Because that was the colour which enveloped me into comfort when I was thrown into the dark closet by my beautiful mother and psychopath father. It was as an escape from the present.
When I was 10 , I was asked, ‘What is your favourite colour? ’ I answered, Red. Like the colour of the thick blood that dripped on the floor. The red on my face. The purple it turned into.
When I was 15 , I was asked, ‘What is your favourite colour? ’ Blue. Like the eyes of the girl I first set my eyes upon. Who haunted me . She would either be mine, or no one’s.
When I was 17 , I was asked , ‘What is your favourite colour? ’ I answered, green. Green like money. It was the colour which ruled the world. The colour behind which humanity was crazed and had unhinged the minds of the people. If you took away the green, humanity would lose their mind. I wondered how that would look like?
when I was 18, I was asked, ‘What is your favourite colour? ’ I answered, Orange. Like the flames that enveloped the lives of people as they destroyed their lives running behind wealth . Orange like the colour of rage in their eyes as they saw that wealth – their life reduced to ashes.
When I was 25, I was asked , ‘What is your favourite colour? ‘ I said , Red again. Like my wife’s blood on my hands. The colour of my rage , on seeing her leave. The colour that covered her after I made sure she wouldn’t.
When I was 34, I was asked, ‘ What is your favourite colour?’ I said, Black. Like the world I was living in. Like the colour of the sky, my eyes and my nemesis.
I think the world needs a hint of colour – a burst of orange here , and splash of red there .
And me? All I need is a good laugh . I am the agent of chaos.
I am The Joker.
Co-authored by Michelle