Saturday, 25 April 2020

OS : The darkness falls from wings of night

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we -
Of many far wiser than we -
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

-          Edgar Allen Poe, Annabel Lee


The eight of them were stranded in middle of nowhere and it was rapidly getting dark. They were on a camping trip planned at a famous camping site, a few hours from the city limits. Atul had been very excited about sleeping amidst greenery and the rest of the group had teased him mercilessly. Their mood was dampened when one of the cars broke down. As everyone got down and started planning their next move, Atul stood there watching everyone quietly.

"You know guys this is just like a typical horror movie. Youngsters go to a camping trip, car breaks down and eventually everyone will die", he quietly added.

Everyone seemed to be amused rather than scared. Muskaan however showed a bit of nervousness. Before Atul could continue any further, Abhi took charge of the situation and they decided to camp at a place that they had crossed a mile or so earlier. As they started walking, they exchanged stories from their childhood or from their college days which was both hysterical and nostalgic. As they reached the ruins which once could have passed for a small barn, they yelled few shouts of joy.

It had been a tiresome journey so they made themselves comfortable on stacks of hay when Muskaan asked Riddhima to go with her for a bathroom break. At the same time, Atul started with his analysis.

"You know, typically in any horror movie, girl like Muskaan will die first." Muskaan let out a tiny shudder. Rahul burst out laughing.

"You mean girls who are scary themselves?" he asked Atul throwing a wink at Muskaan. She stuck her tongue out. Rahul simply shook his head, chuckling.

"Muskaan represents innocence and naivety yet being fiercely independent which makes her the easiest target. She looks and acts tough but it's just an act to cover her vulnerability. That's why she dies first", Atul replied.

"Thanks a lot Atul, now I feel very safe as I know the reason why I am a potential target for a psychopath", Muskaan bit out sarcastically. Atul thought that a violent Muskaan was much scarier than all the ghosts and psychopaths put together but he didn't voice it though. Without waiting for his reply, Muskaan and Riddhima went out of the barn and asked the rest of the group not to follow them.

A quiet settled in the barn and not even five minutes had passed by when Atul started speaking again.

"They are still not back yet", he replied nervously.

"They are fine Atul", Armaan replied amusedly. After thinking for a moment, he voiced his thoughts.

"Who is next?"

"Armaan, don't feed this kid's imagination", Abhi admonished him. Nikki soundlessly scooted closer to Abhi as she was honestly getting scared of Atul's analysis.

"I think it would be me", Atul answered without a hint of scare. Armaan only raised his eyebrow while Rahul and Abhi gaped at him. Anjali thought Atul was being idiotic again. When he saw that everyone's eyes were on him, he offered his reasoning.

"I am not particularly a threat in this group when compared to the three other guys but I can be a nuisance to the killer. And it would be because of Anjali that I would die."

"So I am actually the next target to the killer, but you will die", Anjali paraphrased him as if by doing so she would achieve some clarity.

"Anjali loves her friends but she is slightly reckless and sometimes even careless. It's never intentional and she even feels guilty for her faults but generally it would be too late for that", Atul's eyes were distant. Nikki cleared her throat and Anjali was blatantly staring at him. Armaan shared a knowing smile with Abhi and Rahul when Atul continued.

"Anjali is the most grounded person in the group and she would first try to find a solution to get out of here as she loves her friends' very much. She grossly under estimates the intelligence of the killer and she unknowingly becomes the victim. That's where I come in. I die in her place", he said casually as if someone asked him if he wanted to eat a piece of pie. He said with such a certainty and calm acceptance that Anjali choked out a silent sob. She just squeezed his hands accepting his silent plea. Riddhima and Muskaan arrived at that moment.

"What are you guys talking about?" Muskaan asked in a chirper tone. It looked as if the cool weather outside had calmed her down.

"After you die, Atul would die next saving Anjali. Anjali gets devastated because of this and she becomes cold and hostile in the group", Rahul summarized their conversation. Muskaan decided to be sportive about it and simply shrugged.

"Atul, when will Rahul die?" Muskaan asked smirking at Rahul.

"After Nikki", he answered confidently. Nikki looked scared. Atul was looking at Muskaan and explained his theory.

"We are eight of us and killer has killed me and you, right?"

"Right", almost everyone answered.

"Technically Rahul and Anjali are also affected by this act. You know what true evil is Muskaan? It's not killing someone in the most horrific way. It's making that person watch his or her loved one dying a horrific death and not do anything about it is the worst kind of torture that can be inflicted. Even if Anjali and Rahul escape from the clutches of the killer, they will be always haunted by our deaths. In the end, killer does win."

Rahul and Muskaan shared a look and looked away immediately. Muskaan shifted next to Rahul and she could see a storm in his eyes. She clasped his hands tightly showing how scared she was. He gave her a small smile.

"What will happen to me?" Nikki asked in a small voice. Her scare of darkness and Atul's horror movie scenic recreation had her on an edge. She was clutching Abhi's arm as if her life dependent on it.

"There are two reasons actually. One is that you are the easiest target as you can be easily scared. The killer would not even do anything drastic and you will walk easily into his trap. The killer now knows that the targets after you are much tougher than you, me or Muskaan and so he wants to feel that rush of winning. That's why you will be killed", Atul responded.

"What is the second reason?" Anjali asked. Everyone was getting intrigued with Atul's analysis. He was being extremely logical and they had yet to find flaws in his theory.

"The second reason for killing Nikki is also the killer's first mistake."

"Me." Abhi answered.

"Yes. Abhi has a tendency to take charge wherever we are; hospital, hotel or even here. If killer was observing us, he would have seen that when we were walking to this barn, Abhi was leading the group with Armaan and Riddhima close behind."

"The killer wants to emotionally cripple the alpha male of the group", Riddhima replied. She understood the way Atul was constructing logic for the analysis and she cottoned on.

"Abhi takes charges because he is the senior in the group and that's what he has been doing since we have met him. Amidst us he feels as if it's his duty to protect us rather than feeling a natural instinct to protect the group. He is an over achiever, being what he is at such a young age and there is a possibility that he might put himself and Nikki above the group. But a true alpha male would never do that. A true alpha male would not mind to be led and will rise to the occasion when needed", she answered.

"So Armaan is the hero." It was Anjali who said that. Riddhima nodded. They were quite for few moments.

"It's my turn now, isn't it?" Rahul asked Atul lightly. He could see Muskaan wince at his casual question.

"Yes. You make mistakes knowing that it's a mistake. The carelessness that you possess is much different from that of Anjali. Yours comes from the general feeling of negligence and taking things for granted where as hers stems from not understanding the repercussions", Atul replied. Rahul and Muskaan shared a look. He knew for sure that Atul had concluded this based on his interaction with Muskaan. For a moment, he felt miserable for the way he hurt her even if it was never intentional.

"Everyone would warn you, yet you would do the thing which will eventually lead to your death. You would blame yourself for Muskaan's death and you will be even more irrational later on. It will be a suicidal mission and that act will help the survivors to escape from the killer", Atul reasoned out. Everyone was thoughtful for a moment. According to Atul's analysis half their group was dead. Even if it was very unsettling, everyone was still thinking about ' "what happens next?"

"Abhi will be next", Atul continued.

"Are you sure?" Anjali asked him.

"I am not, to be honest. It could be either you or Abhi. Both of you have lost something very important in your lives. Both of you are very intelligent and will help the hero and the heroine until the end."

"So Riddhima is the heroine?" Nikki questioned. Anjali nodded.

"Is it Abhi or Anjali?" Muskaan questioned. Everyone seemed to be eager to know that answer.

"Frankly, it would depend on the director or the story writer. Because they can bring about sister-sacrifice thing just twenty minutes before ending which gives Riddhima a new confidence to fight back. Or the other angle is Abhi helping them out in a very tough situation and would sacrifice himself as a testament to friendship and avoiding a tragic death for Armaan. It would be for both Armaan and Riddhima's sake."

"Let's forget the movie director and go by pure logic OK?" Rahul demanded. The group was amused by his curiosity.

"Fine. No need to yell at me", Atul retorted. A few of them chuckled. Atul contemplated for a few minutes before replying Rahul.

"Armaan, Abhi, Riddhima and Anjali are the toughest in the group. Mind you, the killer still thinks that Abhi is the biggest threat but now he is having certain doubts. Because, sometimes an alpha male would take a step back to assess the situation more clearly from behind the pack rather than leading the pack with his back against them. Now the killer has to make a choice between Abhi and Riddhima and not between Armaan and Anjali."

He looked around to see that everyone had surprise written on their faces. To add on to that surprise, Riddhima continued. She had always enjoyed behavioral psychology and this was proper clinical work that they were doing.

"Look at Abhi. He is well built, tall, confident and definitely a good fighter. He is the one who would fight till the end and help the group. And as Atul said, at this point, in killer's eyes, Abhi is a bigger threat than Armaan. Since killer has some amount of doubt on Armaan's capabilities, he might even choose me next as it would simply devastate Armaan. And a devastated Armaan is like a loose cannon; it will collapse the group without much work from killer." She fell silent. It took her a moment to realize that she had openly accepted her relationship with Armaan and what they mean to each other. She chanced a look at her sister and she found that there was a calm acceptance on her face. The sisters shared a private smile. Atul explained further.

"Abhi will go next. Even of Armaan gets irrationally aggressive about Riddhima's death, there still is a chance that it could harm killer himself. Instead of that, Abhi is a safe bet. And besides, Armaan would be more protective now since there would be two girls and one guy. It's not a gender bias ladies, it's just the way Armaan is programmed", he grinned at Armaan. Armaan just smiled and shrugged.

"But haven't they figured out who is the killer yet?" Muskaan enquired. Atul smiled at her and unconsciously looked at Riddhima. Only Riddhima seem to understand the logic in which he was coming out with his explanations.

"Now that there are only three of them, they will start wondering if they know the killer or it's some sick guy."

"Of course I would contemplate that the killer might be one of us", Riddhima answered calmly.

"That's impossible."

"It's rubbish."

"Are you crazy?"

"Not happening."

Various exclamations were heard but Riddhima was looking at everyone calmly.

"We are what we are because of the morals and values that have been imbibed in us since very young age. But I honestly believe that there is a dark side to every human being buried deep within us. Based on our mental and emotional stability, that darkness in us is contained. Few people release that darkness by killing others and some people by poisoning other people's lives or ears or hearts." Her gaze had settled at some part of the barn and she wasn't looking anywhere. Others understood what she meant by her words.

She nodded as Atul picked it up as his cue to continue.

"Even though Anjali comes out as cold and calculative, she is actually quite fond of her sister and she will do anything to keep her safe. Even with only couple of years of difference, Riddhima will always be Anjali's baby sister. In events like these, the killer might amuse himself by playing sick games with the victims. In one of those games, Anjali would die protecting Riddhima. I know its clichd and you find this reasoning in almost all movies but you know the reason why it works in every movie?  Because it's true; it's as simple as that."

The group was quiet after listening to his theory. Everyone knew how the ending would go. Nikki voiced it.

"So Armaan and Riddhima remain and escape the clutches of the killer."

"It's either that or Armaan might also die in the end. He will never let Riddhima die", Atul added.

Silence now filled the barn. They were not scared of deaths or killer or ghosts or darkness that was out there. They were more scared for others, their friends, their partners.

Happiness settled in his chest when he realized that he was the reason for this realization amongst his friends.

"Let's get some sleep before dawn breaks. We still have to get our car repaired or something and only then we can proceed further", Abhi ordered the group as he fussed around now sleeping Nikki. Everyone got comfortable wherever they were sitting and started falling asleep.

Atul saw that when he started his analysis, there were eight people in the barn. But now, there were four couples.

Everything was going to be fine as long as they had one another.


--- COMPLETE ---

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