Grant Smith sat in the pub, one hand gripping a glass of beer while the other on the table, supporting his weight. His eyes were glazed off, staring out of focus, into the distance, like a man who had nothing to do but was engrossed in something, like a man who longed to go home. Three months had passed since he visited this remote place far off in the mountains. Miles away from the bustling urban city that he had grown so accustomed to from his childhood. This was the last night he would spend in Redbury. He was all packed up and ready to leave the next morning.
His project was almost done. He had collected all the material from this town over the past there months. He had never been away from home for such a long time before, alone. This remote town of Redbury isolated from the urban world was not a place where he could live comfortably. The culture, attitude and the behaviour of the residents was totally different from what one would expect in a city. The residents were not sociable to easily mix with. He felt like a misfit for the past three months. Oh how how longed to return to his family, how he longed to get back to his friends. He had to suppress all these desires in order to produce a good research paper and get his doctorate.
After taking one last gulp of the beer, he left the pub, ready to hit the bed and drift into sleep, ready to catch the very next train the next morning and be out of this town. He wore his coat and huddled tight, the palms of his hands inside the parka. The dimly lamp lit street was empty, except for the cold wind that swept through it, making a low whistle as it went by. Every time he exhaled, a small puff of mist came out of his mouth. He stuck his hands close to his body in an attempt to maintain their temperature.Grant reached the corner of the street and was about to turn at the lamppost when a white hand, cold as ice gripped his shoulders. He turned around and almost fell back when he saw the figure standing behind him.
A thin shrivelled up woman, skin as white as ice stood crouching somewhat and gripping his shoulder for support. She looked at him through her grey age-old and kind eyes, like she wanted something out of him. She trembled in the cold and
looked as if she had been in some sort of hurry. A good two feet short of him, she looked up at him and said, “ You are Grant Smith, are you not?” in her trembling voice. It was as if she had to muster up a lot of strength just to speak out these words and make them sound audible. A mist of air came out of her mouth every time she spoke due to the freezing cold outside.
“Yes I am, how may I help you,” he said.
“Could you please come with me?” came her answer. Grant assumed that she might have been stranded in the street and asked him for support in order to walk to her house. “Sure,” he said and lent his hand for support. She leaned on one of his hands and started walking straight, away from the lamppost, opposite to the direction in which he came. She hobbled slowly, each time taking a deep breath before making the next step. They reached the end of the street which was pitch black due to the absence of a street-light in the area. She stopped, turned around and stared at him as if hypnotized by his face. Grant felt increasingly uneasy by the behaviour of this old woman. He felt like he was looking at the shell of a warm and pleasant woman that she might have once been.
He thought that he was looking at a woman who had long past been dead. But she moved all right, even though painfully slowly. She pointed towards her left and Grant saw a door there to a house, very dimly lit from the inside. She turned the brass door knob and swung the white door open, allowing a shaft of orange-yellow light to fall on the cool and dark cobble stoned street. She motioned for Grant to go inside and went in, momentarily blocking the light spilling onto the road. Grant was very doubtful now as to whether to go inside or turn back and make his way to his hotel. Some part of him sensed danger and wanted him to turn back but another part, the logical and analytical part made him think. What could an old woman do to him? It was perhaps his longing to meet his grandparents and his family that made him go inside but he would not be able to tell the exact reason as to why he went in.
The small, snug place was cramped with furniture and other equipment allowing barely enough space for him to walk to the sofa. But the main attraction in the tiny hall of the house was a bed that sat squat in the middle of the hall in which an old man probably in his eighties lay, his chest heaving up and down, eyes staring off into the ceiling and his hands gripping the sides of the bed. He never seemed to notice him come in.
From inside one of the rooms of the house came a young girl who had clearly been sobbing, her hair undone and her eyes red. Dark circles were pronounced beneath her sleep deprived eyes. She wiped the tears off with the back of her hand and roughly tied up her hair on seeing him sitting on the sofa. She came and sat next to him. “You are Grant Smith aren’t you?” she asked, her hands clasped.
“Yes I am,” said Grant. “My grandfather,” she said, gesturing to the person lying on the bed “is suffering from a severe case of cancer. The doctors say that he will live no longer than two days and that they cant help him anymore. Since you yourself are a doctor, we thought we could consult you and see if you could help.”
Grant knew where this was going. They wanted him to give them a solution to a problem for which he sensed none existed. “I don’t know if I can help you,” he replied. “If the doctors here said that it cant be treated then I believe that the cancer has spread far beyond the limit for which it can be treated.”
“Please, you have to help us,” said the girl now again tearing up. “My grandfather desperately wants to see his son. He will be here only by tomorrow. If he goes away before that, his soul will not rest. Please help us, we will give you whatever we can.”
“I really will not be able to help, he said. Moreover I do not specialize in cancer treatment. I am a neurologist. Please understand,” he said.
“You have got to help us,” said the girl, now clasping his hand and tears rolling down her cheeks. “We cant bear to watch him die without his wish being fulfilled.”
“I really can’t help you ma’am. I really cant. If there was any means I could, I would help you but this seems to be a dead end, so please forgive me,” he said and got up to leave but the girl forcefully pulled him down, the expression on her face now of utter anger. Her face turned red and her previously sad face looked furious now.
“Derren!”she shouted, on top of her voice. Grant was trying to somehow unclasp her had and get out of the place but her vice-like grip clung to his hand as if she was hanging on for dear life. From inside the room came a huge pillar of a person, over seven feet tall, his head bent to prevent himself from hitting the ceiling and his long matted hair covered his face.
“What? are you trying to threaten me?” asked Grant.
“We are trying to make you help my grandfather” said the girl.
“We know you can help him live a bit longer. Don’t try to escape us.”
“I really don’t know what you are talking about” said Grant. “If I could help in anyway, I would do it as I said before.”
The girl bent down and from beneath a table that was beside the sofa took out a cut piece of the local newspaper. “It says here” she said, pointing at the piece of paper, “that you are developing some medicine that can elongate lifespan.”
“It is still in its developmental phase,” replied Grant. “The reason I came to this town was so that I could explore the herbal properties of some plants that grow around this region.”
“I dont know what you are going to do Mr Grant,” said the girl “but I want my grandfather alive to see his son.”
Grant did not like the way he was being forced and decided it was time to leave. “But that is not going to happen ,” he said forcefully and snatched his hand away from her. He was trying to be nice to her before but now he sensed that these people were desperate and would do anything to make their grandfather live. Now he knew that giving that interview to the local newspaper was not a wise decision after all. He got up from the sofa and was about to proceed to the front door when he was blocked by the hand of the monstrous Derren. He felt his sausage like fingers curl around his neck. They tightened, squeezing Grant’s trachea and making it difficult for him to breathe. Both of Grant’s hands were trying to loosen Derren’s hold.
“Look Mr Grant,” came his deep voice. “If you do not cooperate with us, you will not be alive to see tomorrow.” Grant felt trapped. He was no match for a person of such strength. He must never have entered this house. The only way out was to help them, he figured.
“ Okay, I’ll help,” he wheezed through his suffocated throat. As Derren’s grip loosened, Grant sucked in a huge gulp of air as he leaned on one of the walls for support. He began to cough heavily . It was a while before he was normal again. “The medicine is at home. I need to go get it,” he said, still recovering.
“Alright Mr Grant,” said the girl. “You can go home now but before you leave tomorrow morning, you must administer the medicine. It is not until we see the effect of the medicine that we will let you go. Do you understand?”
“Yes, yes I do” said Grant, eager to somehow get out of this hell-hole.
Grant got up at 6 AM the next day, looking forward to get onto the train. He got ready and checked if he had left anything or forgot to pack his belongings properly. He left his apartment at 7:30, heading towards the railway station. It was a fifteen minute walk from his hotel and hence there was no need for a cab. He reached the station at 7:45 and went inside. At the place where everyone lined up for purchasing the tickets, he found a huge man with long hair, looking and scrutinizing every face that walked past him. It was undoubtedly Derren. Grant’s plan for fleeing the town now seemed impossible. There was no way he could get past him without being noticed.
He turned back and headed to the old man’s house. That was the only chance he had, albeit a very slim one. He reached the house after about half an hour of walking, not knowing what to expect. He hoped that Derren had not seen him in the station. If he saw him, then it would imply that he tried to escape and the consequences due to that may be severe.
The white door was kept open and Grant walked in, expecting to see angry faces at him but it was not so. Everyone was normal, and the old man lay in the bed as peaceful as a corpse except for the subtle elevations and relaxations of his chest. The girl sat on the sofa, with some magazine in her hand. “You’re late” she said keeping the magazine down. “ I’m sorry, I woke up late”, said Grant, laying down his suitcase and taking a seat on the nearby chair after the girl gestured him to.
“Anyway,” said the girl,exasperating,” I hope you’ve found a way to do what we asked you to do.”
“I have,” said Grant, opening his bag. He delicately took out a transparent syringe filled with solution. He faced the old man and said,“You will feel dizzy after about a minute or so and then you will go into a deep state of rest,” as calmly as possible. After delicately piercing the shrivelled up and wrinkled skin of the old man who seemed to be oblivious to any sort of pain, he slowly injected the solution into his body.
As time passed, the old man’s hand started shaking and he was trying to tell the girl something. She went near him and placed her hand on his forehead, assuring him that everything was going to be fine. Then he slowly stopped shivering and went deep into sleep. “Just as I told you before,” said Grant to the girl. “Okay. You can leave now.” she said, not making eye contact with him. Grant casually picked up his belongings and made his way to the door but before he could exit, he heard the girl say, somewhat reluctantly, “Thank you, I had no other choice.”
Without another word, he paced fast outside the house, walking briskly in the empty street peppered with chinks of the morning sunlight. Thoughts were racing through his mind. Somehow, he had escaped the clutches of them but now he had to get out of town as soon as he could. He cold not risk another moment here.
He was cautious when he reached the train station but was relieved to find out that Derren was not there. He merrily bought a ticket and waited impatiently for the train. After about fifteen minutes, the train arrived. He got into the train and settled down, his mind constantly recalling the events that took place. He was happy to realize that his plan had worked, that somehow he had cheated the girl and Derren. The injection that he administered to the old man was nothing but water.
Being a neurologist, he very well knew the power of the “placebo” effect. The effect was based on the fact that the mind could be tricked into believing anything. If two people were to be given two bottles of beer and if one bottle contained the original beer and the other one contained nothing but coloured water, the end result would be that the man who had drunk the coloured water would also act as if he was drunk, that is, his brain would believe and be tricked that it was under the influence of alcohol.
Here, Grant made all the efforts possible to make the injection look authentic. one of the main principles of the placebo is that one must affirm and make the victim believe that whatever they were doing was true by making the surrounding
and equipment look authentic as possible.
So in fact the injection that Grant had administered to the old man was a placebo. Though the effect of the placebo isn’t clearly scientifically explained , Grant suspected that the old man might just live a tad bit longer than he would have if he had not received the injection. He might just be alive to see his son and have his last wish fulfilled. Feeling totally stress free and relaxed, Grant completed the rest of the journey sleeping or listening to music.
When he reached Blitzkrieg, he was met by a horde of family members, warmly embracing him and celebrating his return. Grant was filled with euphoria and was dizzy with happiness. Life seemed to be good again. His research was received very well and he even got extra credits for his wonderful work. Grant’s life would be a fairy tale until one winter night a month later.
Icy-cold winds blew over the snow laden street of Glassgow Lane as Grant closed the windows. After getting a job in a well acclaimed company, Grant moved to his own place now. Frankly speaking, he did not require such a big house but he bought it anyway. He added a few more branches and twigs to the furnace as he laid back on his chintz decorated armchair, sinking deep within its cushions. He picked up the local newspaper and was skimming through its headlines when he heard a knock on the door.
He reached the door and unlocked it but before he opened it, someone pushed it from the other side and fell through, onto the hall. It seemed to be some deceased person. He was convulsing uncontrollably as sudden spasms made him gasp for air. His hair was frozen and his hands were white as ice. Grant turned him over to make sure he was breathing properly but what he saw made him stumble back in shock. It was him, the old man he met in Redbury. The man who he had injected.
He stood there in shock for sometime before the old man spoke, his voice quivering. “I…in….injec..” but before he could complete, another spasm made him gasp. “Injection” he completed. “Please wait here while I call the medics”, said Grant and was about to reach the telephone when an icy-vice like grip on his leg held him back. “No..n..no” said the old man. “T..the injec..tion you g.gave me”
Grant did not know what to do, he started sweating uncontrollably. “Please sir, listen to me. I cant help you now”, Grant said. “You will”, said the old man, brandishing a silver pistol. Now Grant was cornered. He had no other option. “Okay, okay let me get the injection”, said Grant. The old man nodded, his eyes still fixed upon Grant, his hands barely able to clasp the gun. Grant did the same thing as before, he filled the syringe with water and injected the man. Miraculously, slowly his spasms and convulsions receded. An hour later, the old man stood up on his own, the pistol still in his hand and left, without another word.
Grant locked the door and sat on his armchair still in shock. It did not make any sense. His train of thoughts was interrupted by the loud ring of the telephone slicing through the eerie silence of the house.
“Hello, is this Mr Grant?” said the vice on the other side.
“Yes”he replied. “Mr Grant, this is Derren’s sister speaking to you from Redsbury. I called to inform you about my grandfather’s death. Hen died an hour ago. I just wanted to thank you for helping him to stay alive this long” said the girl’s voice ,sobbing midway.
“Sorry,” said Grant in shock. “Your grandfather visited me and left just now.”
“What?No Mr Grant, you must surely be mistaken. It could not have been him. Thank you again,” she said and the phone went dead. Grant’s mind rejected whatever he had just heard. He must surely have misrecognized him, he thought. But if so then how would he know about the injection? Grant’s hands started trembling, his temperature sky-rocketed his legs felt like jelly. He had to leave this place, now.
Grant replaced the phone and turned around. Through the window,he saw outside, the shadow of a man. The shadow grew bigger as it reached the window. The glimmering light from the furnace fell on the face of the shadow. The unmistakable face of the old man stared back at grant. The old man’s mouth spread out in a horrifying grin, exposing his yellow-tainted teeth. The shadow lifted its hand, spread out its fingers and placed it on the window pane. Instantly, the house blacked out, and so did Grant.