They come at dusk, first, only the distant sounds of stomping feet wafting through the improperly shut window, then voices shrieking in anger, hurtling chaos and insults, wielding pitchforks which he can’t see –the curtains are drawn— wielding crackling, petrol-fueled fire which burns their torches, burns the setting sun, burns the sky grey, like the winter fog in Delhi, he thinks, the kind which stings your eyes when you go out, which is three-fourth exhaust fumes and one-fourth abandoned bonfires made by people to survive the night, the kind that propels some people to revolt from inside their heated homes, and others to seek shelter, sometimes under four-lane flyovers, sometimes in that eternal sleep, and this leads him to think of dying, even as their stomping feet get closer, their voices delineate into distinct words, their rage floats inside his room – the window, he should have closed the window—even as all of this happens, he thinks of dying, how much he fears it despite the seventy-five years he has had of preparation, a full life, some may even say a happy life, a life that he never thought would end here, in a bed, staring through the slit in the curtains waiting, stifled with fear of faceless men holding nameless grudges, waiting for the inevitable as they get closer, he is sure they will crash into the window any second now, pour into his room like piranhas on prey, can feel them plotting almost as absolutely as he can feel the beat of his heart in his throat, in his clenched fists and gritted teeth, any time now – and then the door swings open and she comes in, she who has been dead for five years, she who looks younger than he remembers, she comes in, smiling and says, it is time for dinner –as cheerful as the white tulips on his bedside, oblivious to the fury bubbling into the room through that half-open window—come on then, she continues, walking over to him, closer to the window, closer to them, unperturbed, unprepared, and he tells her to stop, tells her about the men outside waiting to barge in, tells her about the fire in their eyes and the fire in their hands, and in the seconds which follow, patiently, fearfully, he waits for her response: a smile that never quite reaches her eyes, a sad smile, he thinks, a brave smile, she sits next to him and takes his old, wrinkled hand in her young, strong one, and tells him it is just a thunderstorm, like yesterday, like the day before; everything is okay, she smiles; it is just the rain lashing at the door, she smiles; it is just lightning making the sky psychedelic, she smiles; it is only the smell of wet mud, she smiles, and asks him if she should open the curtains so he can see for himself and before he can protest, she walks up to the window and pulls the curtain aside to reveal thunder and lightning and rain but not them, for they come only at dusk, he thinks, they always come at dusk, and now the sun has already set.
I suppose this is more flash-fiction than short-story. I wanted to experiment with writing a story in a single sentence. If you want to know how it’s really done, look up The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s around 2100 words. Finishing it feels like coming up for air after grossly overestimating one’s capability of staying under water. Anyway, until next week!
This story was written as part of The Ray Bradbury Project. I’m writing one story a week for a year (or as long as I can keep it up). You can read the previous installments by checking out the tags on the right!