Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

The Pause

“I love you.” Shubham said, his heartbeat a tad higher, his voice an octave lower in his attempt to sound serious and his palms sweaty. He looked at Anamika hoping to hear the same words back.

Time stood still.

“Not now.” Shubham groaned.

It was a scene that Shubham had seen a thousand times but it still managed to annoy him to no end.

“What do you want?” Shubham said, repeating a line that he had said over and over again expecting a different answer every time.

“Why, I want what I always want — to kill you.” The voice said. Shubham had heard this line many times. Still, he felt crestfallen to hear this line again, especially when he was at the cusp of something so important. Yet, he braced himself for the fight.

The voice gained a body and wings slashed across Shubham’s cheek. A thin line of blood came through the cut before it healed, leaving a trace on his cheek. Shubham wiped out the trace and looked at the white beast in front of him.

Shubham remembered the first time he had felt the time stop. He hadn’t understood what had happened for the first two seconds. On the third second, the whole scene changed and he was on an empty platform. He had heard a flap of wings from afar and had looked towards the horizon with anxiety and excitement mixed. When Shubham had first time seen it, he had thought it was an angel. That mistake had almost cost him his life.

Now, Shubham knew better and was almost always prepared with a few small weapons and one large knife in his back pocket. He brought out the long knife and without even looking at the creature directly slashed. The screech told him that he had aimed true. However, when Shubham looked the creature wasn’t dead. Only a cut on it’s wing. That, however was enough to put it on the ground where Shubham had the advantage.

Shubham ran towards the creature, his knife in stabbing position. The creature shifted slightly and a shine came from its hand that turned out to be a blade. It was a tiny blade but was enough to cut through Shubham’s shirt. Luckily, Shubham had turned at the right moment and the side of the shirt was torn along with his ribs.

Shubham gasped and fell. His momentum created some distance between him and the creature and in that moment, he hoped that he would heal. His knife was lying five feet away from him and he started moving towards it. The creature laughed.

“It is time, Shubham Meena. I finally kill you today.” The creature said in a grating voice. He moved slowly towards Shubham with a knife in his hand.

“Not yet whitey.” Shubham said and crawled towards his knife. He also used his right hand to pick out a smaller knife that he held in his front pocket. The creature fell for the ruse and jumped on Shubham. In a split second, Shubham turned to avoid the creature’s knife and opened the blade of his knife towards the creature’s bosom.

The white creature bawled and tried to run away. The first few times, Shubham had let the creature run away but now, it was just a habit. Like a practiced butcher, Shubham cut through the creature’s wings, made incisions throughout its body and finally beheaded it. In a few minutes the creature was lying on the floor with white creamy blood pouring out of its body.

A lot of Shubham’s life was punctuated by a pause that lasted a fight with this creature. Shubham didn’t know if this was the same creature reincarnate or if they were bred somewhere. Shubham also didn’t understand why he didn’t age or how he healed so quickly in this world. He had once gained his severed arm in this world. But he had learned that he took back the artefacts of the injuries to his world with him. The spliced shirt would remain so and so will any injury that doesn’t heal before he goes back. Due to this, Shubham usually took his time in killing the creature so that his injuries heal in this world.

Finally, he felt a tug in his body and he saw the body of the creature dissolve. It was time to go back.

It was at this moment that Shubham remembered where he had left half an hour ago. Suddenly, he was afraid.

Time started to move again. Anamika was looking at him weirdly as if trying to find the truth in his eyes. Shubham tried to hide the cut on the shirt and hoped there were no other visible signs of his battle. Finally, Anamika smiled.

“I love you too.” Anamika said. Shubham let out a sigh and hugged her. Shubham smiled and kissed Anamika jumping into the bliss before time would stop again.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Lapse

It was a momentarily lapse in judgement but it was enough for the whole life to go on a spiral for Raj.

The car swirled wildly as he tried to save the dog that had come in front of the car — a dog he didn’t see earlier because he was looking at the message he had just received.

In what seemed like a lifetime of fifteen seconds, Raj was sitting in car that was standing still but looking the other way. He tried to remember what had happened in the past few seconds.

The dog had come from the divider on to the road barking at the car. Unfortunately, Raj saw this only at the last second and swirled to the left. The car, which was going at over 50 mph was out of Raj’s control and edged towards the end of the road. Only then Raj saw that the road ended in a deep ditch. Raj pulled the steering with all his force and the car moved towards the divider like a drunkard.

Raj realised that even in this state of panic, he was able to keep his cool enough to make the right choice. Either that or he was lucky that this choice turned out to be right. Instead of turning to left again, Raj swirled the car even more and the car twisted a whole 180 degree and came to a standstill.

The dog was looking at the car uncertainly. Raj kept sitting in the car for a few minutes. It was an empty road. If something had happened, no one would have been there to save him. Luckily, this also meant that no other car bumped into him while he was in this frenzy. That would have been lethal.

He turned the car slowly and was now driving at 20 mph. His heart rate was higher than he had ever experienced. But it was all fine.

At least that’s how he liked to remember the story. Even though the slight blood on the tyres was a bit difficult to fit in this story. And so was the fact that sometimes he had nightmares where the dog would turn into a 5-year old kid.

But in his story, it was all fine.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

World War III

The world was breaking and there wasn’t she couldn’t do everything about it. The pain of incompetence was too much for her to handle.

“Should I just end the pain?” She asked herself.

“NO!” A loud voice boomed in her head. Mahevash looked around bewildered. She couldn’t see anyone and assumed that the pain was getting to her. Mahevash started the procedure for the complete annihilation.

“STOP!” The voice again shouted, scaring Mahevash into stopping the procedure.

“Who are you?” Mahevash shouted. She got no reply. She looked around. The trees were slowly melting. The buildings were crumbling unto themselves. The sea was almost black towards the shore and Mahevash knew that the situation farther away won’t be much better. The Earth was done for.

The growing environmental problems had suffocated her for so long and then the nuclear war had reduced whatever hope Mahevash had to zero.

The only question was, whether the death should be slow and painful or should the pain be eased.

“This pain is terrible.” Mahevash shouted to no one. There was no one to hear her.

“It will pass.” A soothing voice came.

“How?” Mahevash pleaded.

“By more pain.” The voice chuckled.

“It’s not funny.” Mahevash cried still looking around. “Who are you? Where are you?”

“I’m coming. I’ll cause you great pain but I will help you live. I’m sorry.” The voice said trailing off.

Mahevash didn’t understand anything that was happening. She looked around at all the destruction. She had loved humans. They had caused her immense pain but she hadn’t wanted this to happen. All of them dead. She just wanted to know what happened.

“I’m here.” The voice came. Mahevash looked far and saw him coming. A huge meteor was hurtling towards her. Handsome and young, the meteor had a sheepish smile on his face.

“You caused all this.” Mahevash said angrily.

“Not directly. But I guess I am going to the cause of great pain to you.”

“I didn’t want any of this.” Mahevash said helplessly.

“I can’t change the fate. Time for you to start afresh.” The voice said as the meteor came close.

“Not again.” Mahevash replied as she felt the impact on her. The pain was excruciating. However, she knew, like last time, it would stop soon and she would have to start all over again.

“And the biggest news today is that US and China have declared war. Since it has been confirmed by NASA that the meteor will soon destroy humanity, all nations have openly started to fight. US and China are the last two countries to enter this World War III.

The end is near. Pray to your God. Thank you.”

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

An Interesting Call

“Hey.” Purushottam heard the soft voice from the other end.

“Hello.” Purushottam said tentatively. He didn’t recognize the voice but the kind of days he was having, he was sure it was a prank call or sale call.

“How are you?” The voice asked. It was slightly husky voice with care seeping through the phone. Purushottam was thoroughly confused.

“I am good. I’m sorry but I didn’t recognize your voice.” Purushottam said.

“It’s alright. I’m glad that you are good.” Saying this, the voice cut the phone. Purushottam couldn’t understand what had just happened. He was sure that he had heard the voice before. Her voice wasn’t something you would forget easily. However, he couldn’t put a face to it.

Soon this became a daily pattern. He would get a call every day in the morning almost like an alarm. She would ask him how he was doing and then cut the phone. Some days the conversation would be longer when Purushottam had had bad days. Other times, it would just be a few seconds. Purushottam had tried various methods to trace the call, starting from Truecaller. The app showed the name Neha but he couldn’t remember any Neha with that voice. Even then, he confronted her with the name but didn’t find any answer. Even then, he started calling her Neha anyways and she didn’t object to it.

“Listen Neha. I love talking to you but you have to tell me who are you?” One day Purushottam lost his temper. He was having a particularly bad day and the last thing he wanted was to shout at one person who asked his well being but it wasn’t so.

“As long as you are fine, how does it matter?” Neha asked.

“It matters because I am not fine. I am talking to someone whom I don’t know. Please tell me who you are or at least something to placate my doubts. Please.” He heard an audible sigh.

“I’m your guardian angel Purushottam. When you tried to commit suicide, I lost my angel privileges. I can’t look after you directly through the heavens. Hence the call.”

“Suicide? I have never tried to commit suicide.” Purushottam said flabbergasted.

“It’s alright Purushottam. I know it must be shameful for you to remember that but don’t worry. I know about that anyways. I just want you to know that I am here to help you, care after you and support you in any way.” Neha urged. Her voice had a ring of earnestness in it that somehow convinced Purushottam that it wasn’t a prank call. This opened two possibilities. Either Neha was a mental patient or she was telling the truth. He didn’t know which was more frightening.

“If you are an angel, where do you live?”

“In the heavens of course.”

“And they have good communication systems set up there to talk to humans.”

“I had to get one just for this. Though there are other angels like me. Suicide cases are complicated, especially if they fail. However, few angels actually try to communicate like me.” Neha explained in detail.

“But Neha… What is your name Neha?”

“I have no name in English language. Neha is fine.”

“Ok. Neha. I have never tried to commit suicide. As shitty as my life sounds, it isn’t that worthless. Honestly, I think there is some misunderstanding. I don’t think I’m the Purushottam you are looking for.” Purushottam said. There was no voice from the other end. He heard a few taps and whispers but couldn’t make out anything out of it.

“Oh! I’m sorry. Wrong number.” Neha said in a hushed voice. Purushottam could hear her blushing.

“So who’s my angel?”

“Your angel is looking upon you. Bye.” Neha said and cut the phone. Purushottam looked at the headset muddled. He was glad that there was a guardian angel looking after him but a little saddened that he wouldn’t get to talk to Neha anymore.

“I just hope the other Purushottam is still alive.” Purushottam chuckled.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Alive!

Swapnil picked up the diary and started reading a random excerpt.

There will always be something or the other than bothers me. Life isn’t about having a cool life but about having troubles of the mind. I do realise that I have more peace when I am single and when I am not chasing after romance. I am more able to look at myself and improving myself. However, no person wants to live alone. No one wants to have a life that is not shared.

The social animal in me roars for a company. The human in me detests it. I don’t know what is the solution to this problem but I am assuming that the solution is going to be simple.

Swapnil was intrigued by these words. The victim was a curious person and if he would have been alive, Swapnil would have definitely wanted to talk to him based on his diary excerpts. However, it was not so and all Swapnil could do was find out what actually happened.

The most likely theory was that he committed suicide. He was single, alone and according to the neighbours, a quiet and reserved person. Most people living around were more surprised to know that he still was alive than by his death.

Swapnil had made a habit of reading this diary for the past three days. The material gave him insights about the person and he hoped to find some clue in those insights. Swapnil was also enchanted by the word flow and the quality of writing. It seemed that the person was a habitual writer — a professional even. Unfortunately, Swapnil couldn’t find out his profession yet. Other than the fact that he was rich enough to afford the place he was living in, the guy had little possessions.

An old television set, a pair of headphones and a laptop. This was his entertainment. Add to that three sets of clothes and it was no wonder that barely anyone ever knew him. This man never wanted to go outside.

These facts made the diary all the more interesting. The diary implied that he wanted to go outside and there was a fight between the social and unsocial part of him.

“Somehow, he thought that the unsocial part of him was human.” Swapnil spoke out loud. Everyone around him started to look at him. He sheepishly grinned and went back to the diary.

One thing I have understood about life. Whether alone or among a million people, life is beautiful.

Swapnil read it and his mind started to race. This man wouldn’t commit suicide. At least the man in the diary.

“You seem a bit too engrossed for an open and shut case.” Arpita said patting Swapnil on his head.

“This man doesn’t make sense at all. The diary shows a man who loved life and while he was a bit antisocial, he was also not a socially awkward person. On the other hand, he has barely any possessions, no one knew about the person in the building and no one seems to know him outside either. Heck! We haven’t been able to find his profession yet.”

“Now that you mention it, another thing is very interesting.” Arpita said looking through the photographs.

“What?” Swapnil asked.

“He is physically fit. Extremely fit per the medical report.”

“So.”

“You can’t maintain this kind of fitness level without a regime. You need a gym and a trainer or you need to have equipments at home.”

“There were no equipments at home and no membership cards etc. were found. No one ever saw him exercising as well. But I will check the nearby gyms.” Swapnil said.

“You still don’t understand. He was too physically fit and he was doing this without anyone finding it out. It’s almost as if he was preparing for a fight.” Arpita said with a glint in her eyes.

Swapnil looked through the reports once again with this new perspective.

“Oh no!” Swapnil said and ran.

“Wait! I’ll come.” Arpita ran after him.

“What happened Swapnil?” Arpita asked as the two moved towards the victim’s flat in his car.

“The flat wasn’t his house. He was meeting someone there. Someone with whom he was going to have a fight.” Swapnil said in one breath.

“This means there must be some other place where he lived.”

“Yeah. I have told Jacob to broaden his search to the whole city.”

“But someone was living there. Otherwise people would have said it was empty.”

“I know. There is one wild explanation I have but I can’t prove it right now.”

“Care to share.”

“What if everyone’s lying?”

“The whole building.”

“What if they are protecting the murderer. The person who actually lived at that place.”

“Yeah, it’s a crazy idea alright.”

Swapnil and Arpita reached the flat and started looking around. Arpita didn’t know what she was looking for but assumed that anything different from the last time would be good.

Swapnil moved around with fervour as if possessed.

“Yes.” Swapnil said and turned towards Arpita.

“It’s a photograph.” Arpita said disappointed.

“Yes. Now look at it.” Swapnil said shoving it in Arpita’s hand. It was a photograph of the victim.

“What’s the big deal about it? It’s the victim’s photo before he died.” Arpita said.

“Check the date.”

“It’s 2 days before his death.” Arpita said. Swapnil smiled like a maniac.

“Now, look at his physique.” Swapnil said.

“Oh my God!” Arpita said and dropped the photo.

Swapnil picked the photo and kept looking at it.

“Something crazy is going on. The guy who died can’t get this physically fit in 2 days. We are missing something crucial.” Swapnil said.

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that I will solve this case.” Swapnil said.

A knock on the door woke up Graham. He moved shabbily towards the entrance. He opened the door and a look of shock filled his face.

“Happy Birthday Graham! You didn’t think we would forget your birthday.” A teenage girl squealed and entered the house, followed by half the building.

Graham looked at them grumpily. He hated socialising but didn’t want to avoid it either. He did wish he looked better so he could actually ask someone out. As far as he could see, building people were more courteous to him than caring.

He did hope that he would be able to change all that with the research he was working on. Hidden in his other room was his creation that he believed would change the way he lived.

“How’s your work coming along?” Jennifer asked. Graham’s heart elated. No one actually knew what the research was about but they still asked how it was moving. And Jennifer knowing about his research was a reward in it’s own.

“It’s going well. If everything goes as per plan, you will see a new me in two days.” Graham said excited.

“A new you.” Jennifer spoke, confused.

“Just wait for two days.” Graham smiled, while cursing himself slightly for saying more than he had meant to.

Jennifer smiled.

The party moved along smoothly and when it finally ended, Graham relaxed on his chair.

‘Two more days.’ Graham thought and went to his room for more tinkering.

“Hi Jennifer.” Swapnil said in a soft voice. Arpita sniggered behind him.

“H.. hi..” Jennifer said. Her voice was cracking and she was on the verge of tears.

“I know Jennifer that it is a weird case. You can tell me whatever the truth is and I will believe you.” Swapnil spoke in a soothing tone.

In the past three days, he has racked up every theory about what might have happened. Had the past version of Graham came and got killed by the present one? Were there twins? Or was it all a hoax to fox him. He had interrogated the whole building again but all of them had been silent on the matter, saying that they had not seen Graham for some time. Except for Jennifer, who had accidentally spilled that Graham’s birthday was two days before his death.

“I don’t know what happened.” Jennifer said trembling.

“But you know that something weird has happened. Right.” Arpita spoke from behind, in an even calmer voice.

Swapnil could smell victory but before he could prod Jennifer, Arpita put her hand on him and stopped him.

“You liked him, didn’t you?” Arpita said carefully.

Jennifer nodded and wiped tears from her eyes.

“Tell us the whole thing Jennifer. I know that you haven’t killed him. You have nothing to be afraid about.” Swapnil spoke taking cue from Arpita.

“We dated a few years ago. At that time, he was the jolliest person I knew. He was well liked in the whole building. No one actually knows how he earned money but most guessed that either he was wealthy or worked from home.

However, he was very conscious of how he looked and crazy about having the best looking body. When he started gaining weight, he became obsessed about improving his health. However, doctors said that it was a hormonal issue and while they can help him control the weight, he won’t ever be in the same shape as before.

He started having mood swings and became sad. He dumped me saying that he didn’t want to inflict himself upon me. I tried convincing him that it doesn’t matter but he won’t listen. We talked on and off and he hinted to me that he was working on a solution to get his old body back.” Jennifer spoke with intermittent of sobbing. Arpita put her hand on Jennifer’s shoulder and squeezed it.

“So, the body we found was…”

“…how Graham used to look. But I had seen him two days ago and he was not looking like this. He did mention he would have a new look in two days. I don’t know what he did but it was weird. The whole building is spooked by seeing the old Graham’s body. No one actually believes it’s Graham. They think he is hiding somewhere. Some think he was doing some ritual that failed.”

Swapnil and Arpita looked at each other. The story filled a lot of gaps but they still didn’t know how he died.

Jennifer’s phone vibrated on the table. She looked at the two, asking for permission to pick up the phone. Swapnil nodded. Jennifer looked at the message and squeaked. She dropped the phone and moved away from the table.

“What happened?” Swapnil asked urgently.

“The message is from Graham.”

Swapnil picked the phone and checked the mail.

Hey Jennifer.

If you are reading this mail, it means my experiment failed. It also means that my experiment succeeded.

I tried to create a perfect body all my life and then, it failed me due to faulty programming. Hormones, which were supposed to help me become better retaliated against me. However, I could never give up.

I started working with researchers across the world to create a tissue body for me that would be perfect in all ways. The trouble was how to shift my consciousness into the new body.

The challenge was big but I tried by best. No hard disk was big enough to store the whole consciousness. That’s when I got the idea that changed my life. I used a distributed network to disperse my consciousness.

Thus, it became a two step process. First, I removed myself from the old body. Second, to put it in the new body and reboot the body.

I had started the process of dispersion a few months ago. After the birthday, I put my new body in the house while removing the old body forever. The plan was to show you the new me, as a return gift to you.

Unfortunately, if you are getting this mail, it means I did the first step correctly but failed in the second step. Maybe the body didn’t reboot or it failed in some other way.

I loved you a lot Jenny and I’m sorry for failing to become better.

Goodbye!

Swapnil read the whole email and sat down. All three of them looked at each other. Jennifer’s hands were on her mouth and Arpita was looking from Jennifer to Swapnil to the phone.

“It can’t be possible.” Jennifer spoke first.

“I don’t know.” Swapnil said honestly. Of all the theories he had thought, the truth still beat him in weirdness.

“What is a distributed system?” Jennifer asked.

“Any system that shares resources. For example the internet is something like this. Theoretically, one can use the processing and storage power of multiple computers for a single purpose.” Arpita explained.

“Like creating a consciousness.” Jennifer asked.

“I don’t think that’s possible.” Swapnil said looking at Arpita.

The phone vibrated once again.

Hey Jennifer.

I am alive!

It’s incredible. I thought my consciousness would dissolve once the experiment has failed but I can feel everything.

I have finally found the perfect body. Now, we can be together forever.

I love you.

Graham.

Swapnil finished the sentence and a silence fell in the room.