“Turkey!” Stan cried. He couldn’t bear his hunger anymore and was about to lose his patience. He stood up from the dining table and dashed to the kitchen. He stared, aghast at his mother, a poor soul. She couldn’t dare to tell her only son that they were short of turkey, a favorite of Stan.
“I am afraid that there’s no turkey left,” Jenna said. Stan left the house in tears. His mother ran after him. “Stanley, come back here right now,” she cried. It was a silly idea on Stan’s part to get out so late at night, considering the dire circumstances. It was days since anyone left their small village.
“What’s wrong, mama? You scared of a warlock taking you for a bride, or of the monster lurking in your nightmares. Get over it, the cock and bull, hardly worth tinkering about especially during dinnertime. Oh, wait! Where’s the dinner? I forgot there’s none to be had.”
“I understand, but you understand as well. We can’t leave the village to get what we need. You know what happened to the others, all 200 of them. 40 families vanished into thin air, leaving no traces behind but their belongings. Our home has become their lost and found. What are you expecting, a pardon granted by…”
“Shut up, I don’t want no smothering. I am not a child. I am fifteen. I can take care of myself. You are a mess, good-for-nothing.”
Stan takes a walk, away from his home and his family. His parents watch him leave while his sister is in tears, unable to see her twin brother walk away from her. Life’s a shrouded undertaking keeping this family and the one next door alive and kicking. They breathe while the rest whoosh.
Jenna was afraid of what lay ahead for her only son after what happened to Chris, her younger son. She was shivering with terror, horrified at the repeat of circumstances under which she lost Chris. He was taken over by a pack of hungry wolves while he was out playing in the woods with his friends. But that was five years ago.
Jenna found Stan crying in his tree house, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” Jenna took him in her arms and dragged him out.
It has been a hard week for her. They barely had any food left in the house. Just some potatoes and lentils. Even her garden, once filled with strawberries, had nothing left. No wonder Stan was upset.
No one knew what was going on. Each day in the last 40 days, one family went AWOL. After three such incidents, people were confused and asked for answers. What could possibly happen? An alien invasion? But what about others, they are still here. The police couldn’t find it out.
Nonetheless, the villagers carried on with their lives as if nothing happened. One after the other, the families kept on vanishing leading to mass unrest and confusion. They started offering prayers in the dark, but to no avail.
Now it came down to two families. “Which one would it be? I hope the neighbors,” Stan wondered.
The night slowly crept casting a shadow of the tree into the room of Stan, growing larger with every passing phase of the hour. His eyes were open with great trepidation. He feared for his life like never before. For it was a binary night for his family. Tomorrow morning, he’s either in his bed or he’s not. He wonders if he’s not there, where will he be? Will he be dead? If alive, then what.
All sorts of things stepped into the abyss of the troubling thoughts he had since the last seven weeks. It kept piling up like a stack of cards. He barely slept well during this time. How could he? He heard the frightening stories of his friends getting sucked into black holes arising out of nowhere. There was nowhere to run or hide. This village is marked by the apocalypse. He has been marked. There is no way out of it. So better say his goodbye to his family before time runs out.
Stan runs out with his bare legs to his parent’s but they were fast asleep. His sister was there on a mattress in their parent’s room. She has been acting weird these days, always murmuring something hardly cognizable to the common folks. The village has driven her out of her mind. It has taken a toll on her. She barely eats and drinks. She’s a lost cause on the verge of breaking down further into oblivion.
Stan retreats his steps with the complete incoherence of what he saw. How could they sleep peacefully with so much at stake? They slumber, while he shrieks silently.
The night seemed too long for Stan lay awake. There was pin-drop silence. He went to his window. The neighbors made no sound. Maybe, they were fast asleep. He couldn’t bear the patience. So he went to check on them. Their door was ajar. It was too dark, so he used the flashlight. “Is anyone there? Mr. and Mrs. Daggart, I’m Stanley. I heard some disturbance. So I came to check,” he lied. Not hearing a single word, he went up to their room and found it empty. There were gone.
It was 4:00 in the morning. Stan came back to his room with the speed of a snail. After witnessing his worst nightmare, things looked bleak to him. His stomach growled like never before. He is famished but has no inkling for a morsel. He’s a boy who is about to vanish any moment. There will be no existence left. If this is his last day, then what does he do? He believes that life is no more, life wasn’t there for him to begin with. Born in a poor family as a twin, he always had to share the love of his parents divided by another soul. He also shared whatever meager amount of food was there each day. There were sacrifices to be made, like looking after his younger brother when he could be playing out with his friends. He remembered the day when his brother fell down the stairs and instead he was blamed entirely. He was the bad brother, a bad boy with no humanity left in him. He was a spoilt brat, for he was led to believe that his siblings are better than him in all aspects. His twin sister always made their parents smile and laugh just with her presence. No wonder she is beautiful, but that can’t be the reason you differentiate among your own children. Just imagine how the others would feel, being left out to fetch some love for themselves. But where will they get some? There’s no such to be found outside of your family, it’s very difficult. Stan had a friend to whom he confided everything, every tiny detail of his life. He had to. Afterall, he needed an outside entity to fall on to when he needed some attention and comfort. “Whenever you feel the blues, you ask for my shoes,” Ron used to say. There is something about a good friend that makes your life different. The bonding you will develop is unlike others. You can’t have that with a family member. You may but not to that extent. The nitty gritty will differ enormously. Ron was such a friend to Stan. Stan couldn’t think of a life without him, but now he’s gone. He left Stan miserable. Stan thinks of him and his words, and finally goes to sleep.
“Stan, wake up! Get yourself together. Wake up. Hurry now. You are not dead. Are you?” his twin shouted. Stan opens his eyes unwillingly and shoves his sister away. His parents stand still staring at him, thinking about what to say. His mother started, “Is this the way to treat your little sister? Is this the time to still be sleeping? We were bothered about you.”
“First of all, she’s not my little sister. We are of the same freaking age. And second, I was awake all night. And if you haven’t noticed, the neighbors are a whoosh.”
“We know. This is the first thing we did after getting up: to check about their whereabouts. I am glad we are still here. It’s them and not us.”
“Okay, so it boils down to us versus them. And we should consider ourselves lucky to be sleeping in utter disregard to the things going round and round. It’s just 41 days. One more to go and the village will be free, free of the inglorious souls which made it a living hell. We are so goddam lucky, too lucky to be not dead I would say. Well, too lucky indeed to sleep in fear of our existence. And goddam lucky to be witnessing the horrors that engulfed this godforsaken village. I do, I definitely do…”
There was no need to get so excited and take it out on his poor family. But Stan was downtrodden to the deepest abyss. He was on the tilting landscape ready to split apart and push him into it, never to return again.
When Stan came downstairs, he found his family at the dining. Potatoes and lentils welcomed him. He greeted them with a sullen face ridiculing their presence in his life. Life comes to a halt when you are left with no choice in food. You compel yourself to swallow when it’s the most difficult, hurting your mouth in the process. Your stomach resonates with your taste, rocking your inner world and making you uneasy.
The mother puts on a long face startling her daughter who is inconsolable. The father sits glued to his chair with hardly any motion. The house is a wreck decked up in rags from nearby homes. Their possession is unwelcome, they are dead for crying out loud. Stan didn’t want their spirits to roam his abode. This one day, just this day.
“Let’s flee this place. Let us start now without anything on us. We won’t carry anything, nothing at all. Let’s just run for it,” Stan said.
“Shut up!” his mother snapped. Then she says, “You know that most of the neighbors tried to flee but in vain. There’s something holding this village to its knees, not allowing us to do as we like. We are stuck here for eternity.”
“No, not for eternity. This is the last day, the last freaking day. And you want to sit tight, lay low to avoid any more distress to your little mind,” Stan shouted.
Stan starts munching on whatever he gets his hands on. He eats like there’s no tomorrow, no sunshine left in his shortened life. His life is down to a matter of hours, minutes maybe. He eats, while his mama watches. He ends up with thrice the amount he usually has. For the first time in weeks, he has a full stomach. He burps and declares victory at conquering the very food which he was about to throw away the other evening.
He straightaway goes outside after he’s done with his meal of the day. He moves away from the home and the souls with time running out of their hands. Time moves on till it’s there in nature. As soon as we point it out, it comes to a standstill and becomes a discrete number. It is not supposed to be so because it is ever-changing, each and every moment.
Stan picks up an axe and takes it out on the tree in front of his room. No more shadows lurking in the dark and casting on his window. No more sleepless nights and no more humdrum life. Let’s put an end to the maddening circumstances leading to this inopportune moment. Let the village seek its last victims. Let it all get over soon for it does not matter at all. If it has to be, let it be. Why bother with our fates and toil to find the reasons if life has to end anyhow? Why take the pain and give others hope when it is coming in your face greeting you with a big fat smile? Let it become bygones already for Stan is done with this world. He hits again.
“Come down, you freak! Let me ground you. No one is going to look after you starting from tomorrow. You started with me. You must end with me. Let us leave this earth together and embrace our fate saying a final goodbye to all that we had together,” Stan said bluntly.
“Are you done helping your friend, taking it down, washing its dirt, cleaning it up like a real good friend?” Jenna asked in derision.
“You think it’s a joke. How do I respect you? You don’t respect my feelings. You don’t respect my faith. You don’t respect my thoughts. You don’t respect my personal space. You don’t respect my time. You don’t respect my being a teenager. You don’t respect the one called Stanley. I am not a child anymore.”
Jenna was out of words to define the horror she just went through. What happened to her little Stan? He’s not himself anymore. He balks at the slightest. He’s uncooperative. He’s gone to a place where there’s no returning. Her only son is gone, lost in the wilderness. She can never have him back.
Her daughter cries. She wails like a little puppy out in the new world, unable to make sense of anything. The little twat has her mother living on the edge about to fall down any moment.
Her husband stares at something all the time without knowing what to do. He is an optimist, a definite moralizer. But he’s unable to help his family cope with the situation. How is he supposed to? He lost his friends too. But he’s waiting, in complete denial of the fact they are about to whoosh.
Stan goes for a walk in the heat. He breaks into a sweat with only a few yards away from home. It is a fine day to talk a stroll. He walks on and on with no purpose. There was a time when he got the company of his dog who left him last year. His time had come. Stan didn’t mind it. Now he’s all by himself amongst the trees that make no sounds anymore. The village has been quiet for 41 days. Stan is curious, he always was. As a child, he used to tear down everything he could get his hands on. He tried to understand how things work, how the world is what it is. How it all came to be? How he came to be? He never stopped at anything. His motion was relentless even with the opposition of his family. For them, he was a naughty child running around all day without contributing a helping hand. His parents had concerns about what he would come to be. But now that concerns are no more for he would be no more. No more disappointment, his parents can breathe with ease without a thought of Stanley obfuscating the smooth stream. He thinks himself as a hindrance to his family’s good fortunes. He believes he’s cursed and his family’s suffering can come to an end if all goes well.
He stumbles upon something. A pale green rock lay in front of him. He picks it up and finds it smooth. How can a stone lying in the forest be so smooth and round? It can’t be naturally. He looks at the other stones completely different than the one in his palm. He wonders and comes up with nothing. He backtracks to his home with the sky dimming behind him.
Stan reaches home in a dilapidated state. His mother is relieved to see her son once again after the way things ended between them in the daytime. His sister finds the stone and starts asking questions, “This is a different breed. What’s so special about it? I have never seen anything like this before. Where did you find it? What did you do with it? Why is it so pale and smooth? Why are you quiet?”
The questions came across rapidly. But Stan has no answers. He has no time for them. It is time to reflect back on his life just like Marcus Aurelius did in his personal journal ‘Meditations’. Why bother about a stone with no future in sight?
“Oh, poor Stana. Why don’t you just let it be? Why worry over trifles? Enjoy your last moment while it lasts. The stone is here to stay, but you are not. You are about to whoosh.”
“Stop it, right now. You should learn to mind your tongue. Why think about it? Why discuss it? If it is what it is, then let it be. Why suffer now? When we can live our lives, let us do so. Nothing changes as you wish. It is God’s will,” the father said. Finally, he opens his mouth. Perhaps, for the last time.
Stan bursts into laughter. His sister joins him and so does their mother. All of a sudden the tension submerges and even the father starts laughing. They come nearer and become a family once again. A sudden sound broke their celebration of life. The stone was vibrating. It threw up yellow light as bright as the sun. The family had to shade their eyes.
“What the hell just happened? It felt like the house was lit on fire. What is this light? And now it’s gone,” the father said rubbing his eyes.
“Is everyone okay? Stan, Stana, are you all right? My eyes hurt,” Jenna said blinking in a rapid manner.
“So does mine. I am half-blind,” Stana cried.
Stan seems to be all right with his steps growing towards the magical stone. He picks it up and observes it. He still can’t make anything out of it. It is still a mystery. He throws it out the front door of his house and shuts the door forcefully.
“I will be in my room. It is out of bounds,” he said.
Stan retires earlier today. He wants to sleep to the fullest. The last night of one’s life matters. He wants absolute solidarity and silence. He wants to dream; a nightmare would do as well. But dream he must, because he considers dream important. Without dreams, he is just a vegetable. And a vegetable’s life is temporary. Today it’s there plump and healthy, tomorrow it will rot. But Stan is different. He is alive and kicking. But the circumstances have changed now. He knows it’s the 42nd day. The last family is still breathing. He is still alive. But it won’t be for long. His family can whoosh any moment without prior intimation.
Little does Stan know about the happenings downstairs. After the family is asleep, Stana goes out and gets hold of the stone. She brings it back inside and again it glows making her blind.
Stana yowled in pain. She felt the sun in her eyes. It burned her retina and short-circuited the signal to her brain. She goes blind.
Jenna runs downstairs followed by others. She takes Stana in her arm and asks, “What’s the matter? What happened?”
“My eyes hurt. I can’t see. I can’t see,” Stana cried.
Stan found the stone lying on the floor. He understood what happened and took it out on a ride. As soon as he left the house, his father stepped out and brought him back. “You can’t leave at this hour. It’s dark outside. We must stick together. We must.”
“So what are we supposed to do? Get blind one after another. This unholy thing is not welcome in here. It has to go.”
“But wait a minute. We are still here. We are still alive. No family has survived beyond the dawn. Look outside. It will be dawn soon. But we are still here.”
“So you are implying that this is the work of this stone. That this is what’s keeping us alive,” Stan shouted.
Meanwhile, Jenna made her daughter sit still on a chair. She cleaned her eyes and put a bandage on it. Then she started, “Legend has it that whoever possesses the talisman will not be hurt for it will protect him and his family.”
“What legend and what talisman? What are you talking about? Who is harming us? What is up with you?” Stan grilled his mother.
“It is time you know about this. First, I didn’t believe it but when I saw this I started remembering the story told my grandfather. According to him, there’s a legend that a devil resides in the village’s heart who rises once a century to feed on souls. He doesn’t stop until the last soul is taken. He cannot be stopped but one can avert his moves by the use of this stone. The stone protects the home in which it resides. The stone hasn’t been found since I was born until now. And it belongs to our family once again. We just need to keep it in a copper box hidden from the eyes of the rest of the village.”