Karnarajsinh Vaghela (Royal Holloway College, University of London, UK)
There, in between our neighborhood and the forbidden village, lies a tomb. It belongs to Humbull’s great-grandfather, The Seer, who was born blind, and whose dying words were an obscure prophecy:
“They, who do not seek riddance from their wounds, soon shall rid themselves of their own blood.”
Who knew the blind man’s prophecy would strike down like thunder upon his own children?
Humbull inherited from The Seer three things; a set of encrypted books, a gun, and a house in the neighborhood. Humbull lived with his old mother in that house, and from there the most unholy sound echoed last night. Before the sound was heard, the earth under that house quaked with the devil’s laughter, and through the hollow channels of its kitchen sink ran down a mix of blood, spit, and vomit.
Humbull was away most days doing what he did. Old Mother dared not ask what. The neighbors dared not imagine. Humbull always returned home on the brink of twilight, when it was hard to tell if the sky was black or blue. Upon his return, Humbull would slap and kick the door, until Old Mother opened it from within. At times, the beating on the door would have Old Mother startle in her dreams; half asleep, she would start to walk without any sense of time, like a wound-up toy. Even in her mindlessness, Old Mother never lost her sense of direction. Her feet and heart always faced the door, eagerly waiting for her son. On her way to the door, Old Mother would always turn on the tangerine bulb hanging over the kitchen sink, the dull glow of which lived and died within its silver rim.
Yesterday, Humbull returned after three whole days away from home. Old Mother opened the door to her son who stood swaying like a ghost. Her swollen heels quietly followed Humbull into his room. It wasn’t the first time a dose of horse-tranquilizers went bolting through Humbull’s veins. When Old Mother asked, “where were you these three nights?”, Humbull’s body started to tremble, and before Old Mother could hold him still, his bloated fingers curled into a fist and he punched the wall. The blow left a dent and a smiling cut on his knuckles. He screamed in his jagged voice, “if you ever ask me again, I’ll spear my head into the wall and my blood will be yours to mop off the floor.”
Old Mother began to cry like a lost child, but then Humbull said he was hungry. Old Mother dragged a chair to the dining table for Humbull to sit, laid a plate and a cup, and filled both to the brim. Humbull liked to smoke on the front porch after his meals. Yesterday was no different. He puffed out clouds of raw tobacco while Old Mother sniffed in dry air, cleaning dishes, quietly weeping.
About six months ago, much like yesterday but a lot worse, Humbull had not come home for seven whole nights. Old Mother’s dinner turned cold waiting for Humbull during this time, her palette dried and the insides of her stomach churned to point that her blood and water turned to one. First, the walls of the house sobbed along with Old Mother. Then, a loud, shrill noise was heard; it sounded like a dying crow’s final caw. Soon, the house went quiet, and no sound escaped its throbbing shackles anymore. On the morning of the seventh day, Old Mother, led by her dull, swollen eyes, opened the door of the house and walked onto the porch. It may have been the first time in many, many years that she had come out in clear daylight. Her mouth was a gaping hole. Her face was soft like melting earth, and loose, white hair on her head stood suffocating. Old Eyes searched for Humbull far and beyond, but she couldn’t look further than the horizon that marked the beginning of the forbidden village. She stood a little bent to her side, crooked, and in her hand she carried a gun. Old Mother had to breathe into the muzzle; she couldn’t breathe otherwise. The cold, black metal burned in her hands while her fingers hugged the trigger. The birds watching over Old Mother snapped their eyes shut, and so did I. Just as her finger began to turn yellow, the telephone in the house made that terrible, cringe-worthy sound it is known for. The sound was proof of Humbull being alive, for no one else ever called the damned house. Old Mother simply went back inside, shut the door, and cleared her throat of a seven-day long death before receiving the phone.
The only man in the neighborhood Humbull feared was Mr. Landlord, a man known for two things: first, for buying and selling omens, and second, for getting his debtors to pay up every single penny. Mr. Landlord once asked Humbull, since Humbull was in his debt, to keep his cat safe for him. Mr. Landlord’s gold-toothed astrologer jumped in and raised an addendum, a word of advice for Humbull, a warning as it were: “beware for the cat is cursed,” the astrologer said, “and the curse may spread like the plague, wherever the cat takes shelter.”
Old Mother couldn’t help but scream at the sight of the cat when Humbull brought it home. The astrologer had recommended that the feline be brought into a new environment with a black polythene bag wrapped around its head, so that it couldn’t spit poison in the eyes of its beholder. Humbull passed on the warnings of the astrologer. “It is cursed, Mother,” he said. Old Mother immediately took the cat from Humbull’s hands and fed it with her own. The astrologer was right about the cursed cat: it had a strange growling bark, it could hiss like a snake and it could change colors in a blink of an eye. This cat knew how to steal things that it could see, and it could see souls.
One couldn’t be certain, but the feline may have devoured its own poisonous tongue. Old Mother buried the cat in the backyard, not knowing that it meant certain death for Humbull at the hands of Mr. Landlord. It was just then that Humbull left and did not come home for seven whole nights.
Yesterday, after his casual rounds of belt-strapping and vein-injecting, Humbull called out for Old Mother at the top of his voice. It wasn’t a roar this time, but a feeble cry. Old Mother’s living corpse twitched at the sound of her son’s voice. Her feet rapidly moved towards him. He, meanwhile, began to drag himself towards the kitchen sink. On his way, he stumbled into the chair by the dining table and fell face-first, almost letting his breath slip away from him. Upon reaching the sink, he managed to pull the switch on the tangerine bulb. The dim glow of the bulb struck his face like a newly risen sun. His head dropped into the sink; a copious amount of blood spilled from his mouth, the acid from his guts tore his lips apart, and a flood of fiery liquid drawn from his inner chambers stained his tongue black. From Humbull’s breath, which was about to lose itself, swung a noise of laughter: bestial, corrupt, insane. Humbull faced the ceiling, or God perhaps. He continued giving air to his evil laughter and then suddenly felt a volcano burst in his heart. He turned his eyes down and saw a wound splashed across his chest. He’d been shot. Old Mother dropped the gun, and turned off the tangerine bulb.
Karna is a fiction writer born on the cusp of ‘millenial generation’ and ‘generation-z’ (1996). His fiction closely follows the struggles caused by generation-gap and identity-crisis in 21st century. Academically pursuing philosophy, Karna writes deeply inspired by postmodernist fiction (especially the traumas of WW2). He intends to get a compilation of his best short stories published by the end of 2020.