“You don’t know?”
The diabolic question kept playing in my head like a looping audio tape. There was only one obvious interpretation of it, in which Dougay knew Dhalia and I didn’t. Somehow my story then seemed to be balled around that name. After Dhalia set me up for the mad doctor, I figured he was responsible for the nightmare I was in but it could be another odd notion of the madman.
The stars above looked like holes in a black umbrella which let the last rain fall through and hit me like shards of glass. The holes were windows into a different world beyond the night, a world where black didn’t exist, maybe that is why they were so bright and white. From the asylum gate, I strolled to a bus stop and took shelter under it. I wasn’t in a rush, it didn’t seem I was being looked for in the asylum. I still had Dougay’s black overcoat on and carried his briefcase with me as a disguise. His family didn’t know he was dead, I found his address in the file and I was going to pay them a visit.
I waited for a bus or a taxi long enough to get browsing in his phone I found in his overcoat. The date on its display was 2nd January, 2009. I checked my Facebook profile, it was as stale as six months old pork. Then I checked Ashish’s profile, almost one week ago he posted “Hanging out in imax to watch a movie and got sweatshirt hoodie to cover my head! I still don’t have hair on the stitch mark, feels like Rahul’s craziness touched me like a curse :-(”
Few minutes later the phone rang, name of the caller was “him”. I answered it hoping he was Dougay’s family or friend.
“Hello, who is this?” I asked.
“You don’t know?” the caller replied and he strangely sounded like me.
“No” I said.
“Rahul Rai, this is Rahul Dhalia. I know what you did”
“How do you know my name? who are you?”
“Our plan was to get out of the madhouse but you! you did it!”
“I didn’t do it!”
I saw a man standing across the road, in shadows behind the light pole talking in his mobile phone. I left the caller hanging and stared at the man, he put his mobile down and twisted to finally face me. “Can you see me?” I asked the caller and the man in the shadows answered “Yes.”
I cut the call and walked toward the caller, a car drove past speeding and barely hit me. It stopped and reversed “Are you mad or something?!” the driver yelled at me.
“No. . .I don’t know”
The caller had disappeared. “Daddy is the stranger okay?” a small boy in the back seat asked the driver.
“Yes Mohan, now close your eyes” the driver said and smiled to me.
“Ajay! Don’t waste any time, drive!” a woman said, taking Mohan’s head on her lap as he fell back asleep.
“Quite Lakshmi. . .in time like this we should help our kind. Get in, if you want a lift” Ajay opened the front passenger door for me. I got in, I had no plans to hitch the first car that would hit me but lurking on roads homeless wasn’t going to end my death messenger roleplay any sooner.
“Every time you don’t listen to me we get in trouble! I told you to buy the tickets but you didn’t and we are here being hunted. And now you don’t listen to me and let a hitchhiker get in our car. Stop now!” Lakshmi said.
“I don’t have to listen to you every time, I know what I am doing woman. I listening to you bought the hairgel and now I am turning bald. You said your mother had heart attack but doctor said its just gas and she was perfectly fine. When were you ever correct!”
“I bet you both are married?” I asked.
“Are we that obvious? Ha Ha Ha! Yes we are since seven years and have a five years old son. My name’s Ajay Gujar and you are?”
“My name is uh. . .I am Rahul. What did she mean by hunted?”
“You don’t know? Did you just get out of a jail? Ha! that was a joke too”
“I am new in this city”
“That is even more funny though, the explosion in the chemical factory. News channels would tell you that the factory was active in production of hallucinogenic and laughing gas and maybe drugs but the firm who owned the plant dissolved fifteen years ago, hence illegal production my brother and when the explosion happened the gases released did a lot of damage. If you ask me, its not as adverse as the Bhopal Gas Leak in the eighties”
“You are missing the hunting part in there”
“Oh, state’s government called in ’Spread’ to contain the air contamination and spread of the Laughing Gas Syndrome till doctors and people find a anti-thingy. We don’t have tickets, like Lakshmi already made it clear to us, so before its three in night we can evict the city and keep ourselves from Spread’s armed forces killing the deranged and not so deranged”
“But I was hoping to see my uh. . .friend’s family first”
“No can do buddy, all the citizens are headed to the eviction depots on beach while other misfortunates and rather poor to afford the ‘Immune-Ticket’ have a chance to cross the check-posts on highways. Your friend and his family must have gone by now and I suggest you do the same”
“Maybe you are right “
“You hear that Lakshmi? the stranger too thinks I am right! Can’t top that!”
It wasn’t only his story that kept me from going to the address, it’s the damsel’s side of story I heard in the surgical theater earlier, every thing she said and Ajay said seemed true although it was more like a story from first person apocalyptic graphic novel.
Being aware of Dougay’s phone in my pocket had data balance was even more graphic in my mind. I pulled it out and started browsing again.
I Googled ‘stpd’: Schizotypical Personality Disorder. It has two axis or types, its the mental condition in which a subject suffers more than one psychosis but is mostly schizotypical. Fear, hallucinations, violence, odd social and religious believes, addiction and paranoid of being target in an illusive world, sharing identity with a person that only exists in their delusive head. A person who can never be your friend but he could make you his enemy.
Search results only made me more suspicious of what I saw or did were ever real, or the random family I just met or the car I sat in. Seeing things was only a part of my hallucinosis, enough coffee and stress would make Gandhi hallucinate Simon come back. I worried if I hurt somebody unknowingly.
“Are you real?” I asked.
“I am one of my kind buddy” Ajay said.
“No, I mean are you a real person”
“Stop the car and show us your ID!”
When we reached one of the check-posts on the high way, we lined up behind the trailing vehicles. Two guards randomly picked our car to inspect. Both wielded AK-52 with gray paint-work and scopes packing night vision. One guard with a scar across his pale face hit his rifle on my side of window and ordered me to lower it. Another one with broken right ear already had Ajay sweating.
“Oi! Lower your window” scar face yelled at me but I fixed my eyes on the other one checking our Ids because I didn’t have one of my own.
“We only couldn’t afford the ticket, marshal, but we did get a shot of anti-anesthetic at a clinic. I hope there isn’t any problem”Ajay said.
He looked at Ajay’s driver license and Lakshmi’s voter ID. “I don’t trust you” he said and put an electronic device in their mouths to exhale into and it made a sound, maybe they weren’t contaminated.
“Get out of the vehicle or I’ll shoot!” scar face cried again, and I got out. I took the tube of the device in my mouth and it output that I was contaminated, at least the sound it made was different than earlier.
I had just got out of the asylum and the world I got into felt fictitious. The scar face looked at me as his brows crossed, he left the device hanging in me and reached for his gun, I grabbed its barrel and pushed it away. He shot a few rounds through the car windows, the other guard had pulled Ajay and his family out of the car and dragged them on their knees. I ran around and hid behind the car’s rear and watched as he shot them and their five year old son.
I rushed to the guard and jumped on his back, punched him and tried to take away his gun “They were innocent! You psycho!” I screamed.
Then I understood psycho is a relative term. Relative to our choices, our actions, we are what we chose to do.
I pulled a knife from his holster and jabbed it in his throat. The guard fell crashing on the car, the scar face hesitated before taking his aim, then fired near my feet as I ran across the road into the woods.
I hid behind a tree and watched the cone of his flash light as he moved deeper and toward me. To my right I saw more lights came closer and made a search perimeter. I threw a rock to distract their direction then slowly moved backward, crouched to the ground and scar face walked farther away.
Far from the guards, I started running and crossed a muddy rill from a has-been river to reach the main road. The road was empty, the traffic lights blinked red above me. I was hoboken and lost in the bend reality my mind might had put me into. The Quarantine City.
I left Dougay’s briefcase in Ajay’s car but I still had his overcoat on me. Walking further along the road I found myself in a unknown vicinity, the buildings were gray and tall, rolling gates shut their entrances and a far dog cried. Dougay’s mobile phone rang again and the caller was “she”. I feared that it was Dougay’s family or friend. Somehow I gathered enough courage to answer it and maybe tell her that he was dead, so I could be free.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Run Rahul! They are coming after you, they’ll catch us! Meet me in our home, I love you! Run-”
The caller was the damsel I met earlier in Anarchy Asylum where she sedated me and left me half past sane. I remembered she was talking about getting back her sister. I hoped she did and maybe she had gotten into trouble with Spread’s soldiers. But why she and maybe her sister waited for me? how did she get Dougay’s mobile number? What made them relative?
Every road I hit, every vicinity I got into and every corner I turned to, I saw a shadow follow me and he knew what I did. Rahul Dhalia hid behind his shadow and in the dark hoboken night, he followed me. No matter how fast I ran, he’d inch more closer. Finally I turned around to face him at once. I saw a man in black overcoat, his hair were rough, his skin was pale brown and he clutched his coat in fear. His eyes widened when I looked into them “What do you want Dhalia?!” I asked him.
“I don’t want to die” he said.
“Stop following me! just let it go” I said.
“ I can not, what Rahul did was very sad to forget. That family was innocent and they are dead because of Rahul!”
“Maybe you mistook me for another Rahul”
“Who are you?”
“Why? I am Rahul”
“No I am that Rahul!”
He showed his knife he had been hiding in his overcoat “This madness started from you!” Dhalia screamed and ran toward me. He hurled his arm around and the blade cut through my left shoulder. I tried to push his face away but we both fell on the road and his weight further pushed it deeper, I screamed in pain and looked at my wound that glutted blood.
Dhalia sat on me and pulled it out of my flesh to replace it again, I held his forearm but it slipped through my grip and the knife came straight down in my face.
I woke up on the road with an headache and I wanted some scotch in me. At least I drank an Ape Scotch back in the asylum. Why did I get out?
A fluid flowed out and touched my hair like cold mercury leaking from a broken thermometer head, and it wasn’t my own blood. A torn piece of newspaper blew with the wind and stuck on the knife in a dead mans forehead beside me. His skin was pale gray, he wore traffic officers uniform and had a big wide joker grin. I recognized the knife in his face was the one Dhalia attacked me with, or it was me.
“Laughing Gas Syndrome” was the bold headline of the newspaper. “People laughing to death or hallucinating their worst nightmare come alive. The colorless compressed gas which we all know as anesthetic is used in dentistry, whipped cream and motor races but what we don’t know is that it is a more dangerous greenhouse gas. Excessive inhalation of nitrous oxide caused reduced mental abilities, loss of blood pressure and reproductive defects in pregnant women in the quarantined city, which was declared shut and unsafe thirty seven hours ago by our prime minister. The hallucinogens escaped in the explosion has been the active agent of the damage and death. The citizens in the district had no other choice but to gather their belongings, families and friends and evict their homes overnight. Travel light people.”
The newspaper didn’t tell about the bullets and the massacre happened behind the hazard-zone lines. Truth gets our most bitter crit but half a truth always gets us gossiping. I took the wrist watch on the officer’s body, the time was 3:03 AM in morning. A crow stood on the body and chewed on its skin, it looked at me and started cawing with a rough click in its voice, as if it was crying out for help. I got up and began walking away, then behind me I heard cawing of a big Crow in the sky. Its shrill was more potent and terrifying, it spread it’s wings above and broke into thousands of crows flying down onto me.
I ran as hard as possible and with all my bare strength. The crows were catching up, their sharp bills tore my skin and tried to eat me in small bites. That wasn’t normal for city crows but maybe it had to do with the newspaper headline. A door opened to my right and Ajay stood in it calling me to run inside the building.
The crows tried to lift me in air by pulling my overcoat, I removed the coat and slipped down out if it and ran inside the building. When I shut the door and turned around, I didn’t find Ajay. For a moment there I forgot he was dead.
Inside the building, I heard a ball bouncing off the ground and hit a wall as if a kid was playing with it. I was scared of the unknown. The letter boxes on the wall were full and oddly every each had “Rahul” written on its label. I picked one of the letters and tore it open. “I know what you did” was typed inside it, another letter had “You killed the family”. Name of the sender was “Rahul” and the address on the envelope was my first adoptive parent’s deserted home. It was all odd and unreal, at least I still had the mental to differ.
Upstairs, the side walls had graffiti painted in red and black but I didn’t understand what they said or what they mapped. The stairs to second floor were ruined and one apartment was left open and fed to darkness. A white bulb above the main door flickered on and off, every time it lit up I saw the ball thrown at the wall inside a room. And with senseless bravado I walked into it.
The main double door had the same door number carved from the address I was chasing. The apartment was one bedroom-hall-kitchen, too small for a doctor with a family of three. In the bedroom to my left when the ball hit on the ground, it never bounced back. There wasn’t any ball or a kid playing with it. The house was abandoned. Maybe I went in the room to make sure I wasn’t seeing things again. I hoped I was wrong about Ajay and his family too, that they were only a part of my hallucinosis. Unfortunately there wasn’t a way to be relieved of that.
I turned the lights on and searched for a clue that I was in the correct house. The room had green wallpaper with lord Ganesha photos hung on adjacent walls, wooden fixtures, a single bed and a laptop on the table by a chair. On the table a framed photo was flipped down, I picked it up and looked at Dougay’s family picture. It was a copy of the picture from Dougay’s wallet. Him, his wife and their two daughters, the elder daughter resembled the damsel.
Even after gazing at it I wasn’t sure, everyone were very young in it. The laptop’s battery was dead so I broke the wardrobe in the room and started throwing things out, then I found a photo album. After thumbing through few sheets I saw a photo of the damsel with her sister in a park, it could’ve been most recent one. Her sister wore a dress similar to Anarchy asylum patient uniform. “PID 407” was stitched on her shirt, she looked sad, her eyes were red and center of big dark circles. The damsel wore a black T-shirt and a fake smile on her face. They both held hands and showed it to the camera. I wondered what had happened to the family.
I kept the photo to find the damsel using it. I didn’t know her or where she could be yet I wanted to find her. I wasn’t looking to make the wrong right, I had more selfish agenda to end the madness. She knew a lot about me for a stranger and only she had the answer to what crept in my childhood memories that the doctors didn’t want me to remember.
If the damsel had called me to meet her at the apartment, why she wasn’t there? Had she found her sister, they could be near one of the evacuation depots or probably they could be deranged and eliminated by the Spread gunmen. I decided to start looking for the sisters in Red Light district, depending on the nature of trouble she was in, she could still be there.
A window in the room looked outside at the buildings, the empty roads, the eerie night and a sewery under the concrete bridge connecting the urban side of the town with the rural one. If I had crossed one block on foot, I could’ve had made it to the bridge and before I made my mind to do that I saw a group of protesters march to the bridge, shouting and ranting what they had written on the posters in their hands.
A truck pulled in and blocked the bridge. The protesters stopped, one of them stood up and started shouting in a language I didn’t understand. Spread soldiers jumped down from the truck rear with their rifles and took aim at the protesters. The driver stepped out and talked to the man. Soon they both were arguing aggressively, the driver drew his gun out and shot the man in the head, the soldiers fired on will and shed blood like water. They got in the truck and then drove away.
My guess wasn’t as good but survival beyond the bridge was generally more oppressive.
A metal container fell in the room through the door and exploded with white flash and loud bang, it disoriented me and my ears hummed. Then someone hit me on my head and they shoved me in a bodybag and zipped it. They punched a syringe in my thigh and took a blood sample. One of them said “His blood has high anesthesia rate and inflated toxicity, let’s tag and deport him!”
I was carried down and thrown in a vehicle. I felt a knee kicking into my back and a face breathing beside me, I didn’t know for sure if I wasn’t the only one captured in the bogey. I tried to unzip the bag or tear it but couldn’t get out. Dials on the watch I borrowed from the dead traffic officer illuminated in the dark. Almost half an hour later I got pulled out and taken up stairs.
They slammed me on a surgical bed and strapped my legs to it, they unzipped the bag halfway and then strapped my head and hands down with zips ties. They were two humans in spacesuit like outfit and were breathing loudly. “Who are you? What do you want from me?” I asked them.
“We are Spread Corps research team, we are here to help. Please don’t resist or we will shoot you” they replied and removed my wristwatch and my shirt. One of them was spooked looking at my dirty patient-uniform and read “patient id 666” out loud. Another administered two needles in me. One in my right arm, to inject glucose solution.
I was hungry.
The spacesuit person handed a syringe to another one, who injected it in the glucose bag. “What is that?” I asked.
“Medicinal morphine” he replied.
My adoptive mother. . .the woman I believed was my mother, Neha Kapoor. She had beautiful eyes, dark hair and fair skin. She was a teacher in a classical arts school two blocks from home, she taught singing. She used to move her right hand in air with the composition whenever she sang, classes for new admissions were 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM after school and later were more advanced classes. Every day she dropped me school before going to her work and returned home by half past seven in evening, she watched cartoons with me and then cooked dinner.
One needle in me for glucose and morphine, food substitute. Second one in my left arm.
Other than singing, cooking was her hobby. We used to sit around the dining table to have dinner and get bored of her cookery television shows. But she cooked tasty food, so tasty I never shared my lunch-box with my classmates in school.
Second needle went into a tablet computer on a side table, when I was plugged to it, it turned alive and showed numbers in four boxes. Behind the tablet and the spacesuit people were plastic drapes hung on pipes, making a kind of partition, the plastic were thick and transparent. There were more partitions and more spacesuit people plugging the deranged into their research.
My adoptive father, Avinash Kapoor, was a serious person unlike Neha. I hardly remember him smile or listen to music or pass time with us other than on the dining table. He used to wake up early than us and returned home for dinner. I never understood wlhis business, only that he was busy with his building construction ventures.
“Subject zero, we will ask few questions. You must answer them in simple words”
Few months after Neha and Avinash adopted me, they were brutally murdered by my natural mother, Priya Rai. Where did they adopt me from?
“For how long were you exposed to the gases?”
“Nothing makes sense” I said.
“Answer the questions, we can eliminate the viral factor in you”
“There isn’t anyone dieing by the gases, how can laughing gas kill people? Your gunmen. The protesting mob were innocent, you’re killing people who are sane and taking us in to formulate a cure. To cure what? What are you doing here?”
“This is the last time I tell you, answer the questions. Did you experience anything paranoid or hallucinatory?”
“I can’t stay in here. I need to get out!”
“You can not leave. The subject is paranoid due to prolonged inhalation of gases, his vitals show excessive consumption of hallucinogenic and alcohol. . .perhaps he is also claustrophobic. Put a tape on his mouth and inject A-09 in him, we will come back later and see if his body survived the vaccine sample”
“You wouldn’t want me to stay. I could hurt you”