She stood proudly at the centre of the gallery, admiring the throng of visitors streaming through the doors. She warmly greeted her patrons with a polite smile.
“My dear, you’ve outdone yourself this time- how realistic this one! Is! I almost cowered under its gaze,” exclaimed Nita, an aristocratic octogenarian who stubbornly refused to acknowledge her age. She smiled, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Yes, this took a while to perfect,” she said, running her fingers along the contours of the cool stone. “It’s not easy, but I like to think I’m making a difference with my art.” A stray gust of wind blew her hair across her face. “The next thing you’ll have to chisel off is your hair!” chuckled Nita. “It’s getting quite long- does it not get in the way?” “Ah, even if it did, I can never cut my hair- I simply can’t!”. “Have you thought of expanding your range of emotions? Fear and shock is obviously your forte, but my, if you just experimented a little….” Nita theatrically raised her arms. “Perhaps one day,” she replied, politely excusing herself.
She had an important night ahead of herself, and she didn’t want to waste it with a woman who looked as fragile as her sculptures.
The night went off smoothly- most of her pieces were auctioned, some fetching prices she hadn’t imagined. She began walking home, taking quick strides. She dreaded the walk home- her route included a back alley through a seedy area, dimly lit, with noxious fumes emanating from the drains. She’d become accustomed to the route- she knew she could protect herself if the need arose- but it never failed to strike a chord of fear in her.
As she marched onward, she saw a figure ambling towards her. She swore under her breath- she’d hoped to not run into anyone tonight. This was going to get ugly.
“Hey there, gorgeous! What’s a fine thing like you doing out so late at night? Out for a good time?” slurred the man, reeking of cheap alcohol. She clenched her jaw and continued walking. “Bitch, I’m talking to you!” shouted the man, grabbing her wrist. “I’m going to show you what happens to girls who disobey me,” he hissed, his hot breath heavy on her neck. She raised her head to look at him and let her hair loose, shaking herself free. He stared dumbly at her- although heavily inebriated, his intuition screamed that he had trifled with the wrong person. There was a pregnant pause in the air-what was she waiting for? Why didn’t she run?
That’s when he saw the green smoke.
He wanted to believe that it was one hell of a bottle of rum he drank, but the man knew he wasn’t hallucinating. Sobriety often crashes onto you when you know you’re in danger, and this man knew. He prayed fervently to the ruined ideal of a God he still held onto. He promised to lay off the drink, he promised to stop hitting his wife and drowning their money in drink- even though he knew, somehow, that his prayers were futile. He couldn’t take his eyes off her- her eyes arrested him. They seemed to be bottomless, they seemed to suck him in. Her hair rippled wildly in the still night. Her strands twisted to form tendrils, that morphed into vines… finally developing cold, emerald scales. The ends opened to reveal slit tongues, dotted with beady eyes that glowed like coals. The man opened his mouth to scream, but no sound could emerge as quickly as his body turned to stone.
She went closer to him. His mouth was stretched in a silent scream. His eyes seemed to bulge out of their sockets. She touched his wrist- the stone was still warm to the touch. She let out a tired sigh. “Couldn’t you have waited till next fortnight? How am I supposed to carry you home, you bastard?”
Author: Raj Jain
A special thanks to the IITM Writing Club for giving insti these great reads!