“The gladdest moment for a human is to depart to unknown lands.”
Wandering my thoughts on this principle, I set out off to my homeland after my exhausting military duties for a vacation with my family. There is a thing about my work profile that although as an army official I get to travel a lot, going on missions, operations with my colleagues but the real person in me comes when I’m travelling alone. Here you get to explore more about yourself away from your chaotic schedule. So I boarded my train to Dehradun. At that point in time, I was having mixed emotions about meeting my family after a long time but leaving my friends was a bit heartbreaking. So I set out for my long journey. It was a crowded train to travel at the peak of summers. My coach was filled with people from different walks of life. Wailing babies to chattering old women, all seemed excited to enjoy their summer vacations. The tea-sellers to food hawkers added to the aura. I was gazing outside, hoping to reach sooner to my destination. The next to happen was something that would always be etched in my memories.
Just as I adjusted my luggage and was about to have my seat, I saw a suited gentleman enter and have the seat beside me. There was an air of serenity about this man. A six-foot tall, good looking with a stern face. He looked a bit old, but still young by his age. But still, I felt a bit connected to him at some point or the other. After a few moments, we introduced ourselves and became acquainted. He went by the name Aarav Rathore. He was a frequent traveller to these hills. He kept to himself and seemed to be an avid reader. Even though I couldn’t recognize the book he was going through but still I didn’t feel like asking him.
The pace at which our train was going was typical of the Indian Railways. Now I was feeling restless and I wanted to initiate a conversation, just then I realized we were going to the same destination. I felt like we can talk about Dehradun because that’s where I belonged to. But as I was trying to talk about Dehradun he seemed reluctant to share his memories, he did give a wry smirk at times. He had an air of nonchalance around him. He seemed to be a bit wandering with his thoughts as we were talking.
I was curious to know what happened to him.
Then he narrated something which still gives me goosebumps till this date.
From many of his expeditions, he recalled one of his tales which still sends chills down his spine.
It was a time during the nineties when not many vehicles were there to occupy the streets. He lost his parents at a small age. This five-year kid was all alone. Then by chance of luck, he was taken up by a military academy in Dehradun. So right from his childhood, he had to endure tough physical training and workouts. But he had a different perspective on his life. Right from his childhood, he had an inclination towards detective tales. Now, this justified his profession of being a detective. I was taken aback a bit but realized that a man should always take the path less travelled by as penned by Robert Frost. He was always thrilled to solve numerous cases as he grew up. But one case still haunted his present which happened in his childhood.
This thrilling case was to find the true reason for the murder of his parents. He told that he always wanted to run away from his past. At that point, he had moist eyes but still gathered back to continue his anecdote. The reason for his parents’ murder was told to be an accident. But as he grew up, deep down he believed it to be a murder.
After gaining expertise in his profession, he went out on his own to seek for answers. His parents had a small estate in Dehradun for themselves after earning a good fortune in their heydays. They lived happily with their son. They had one servant Davos to take care of the child as both parents used to work. But one day changed his fate. It was a stormy night. His mother was expecting her second child and they had to rush to the hospital at the stroke of midnight. But the nearest hospital from there was some twenty miles. It was a lot of distance to cover. His father pulled out his car and had to rush there. It was dangerous to go outside due to the heavy storm and Davos was told to be with him until they return. Soon he learned that fate had other things in mind. He never saw his parents after that night. He spent the most of that night waiting on the porch. The next morning he learned that his parents were dead due to a fatal accident on the highway. He heard nothing about the truck that hit them. He also went to the hospital with Davos but found nothing in the records regarding his parents. That night somewhere inside him, he believed that it was a murder and was travelling back here to find answers.
As he finished narrating his story, I was really engaged in it. I wasn’t sure what came to me but I was really very curious so I asked him to bring me along with him in his investigation. I really didn’t have much to do and I had a long vacation ahead, so this didn’t seem like a bad idea. We were about to reach Dehradun and I was really thinking what could have it been, was it just a simple accident or was it a planned murder. All I knew was that I had an interesting vacation to look forward to.
A Halt among the Hills
The train stopped and as we came out with our luggage, the hills seemed to welcome us. The mist in the air with the chill winds blowing uplifted the mood. I looked up to Aarav, he seemed to be in his usual stoic, with his eyes mysteriously gazing around. Those were the kind of eyes you would look into and feel that they had a lot to say. He told me that we would be going to his hillside estate and he hadn’t seen that place for 20 years. He had always tried to run away from that past but deep inside he always wanted to confront it. He did talk to Davos a few times after he moved out from there but he ended that too as he grew up. We moved towards the taxi stands and asked them to drive us to that address but a lot of them seemed clueless about the place, just then an old driver approached us and told us that he can drive us there as he knows the old mansion.
We passed the hustle bustle of the main town towards the forested hillsides, it was still a long way and I noticed Aarav had a rare smile as we were about to reach the place. Soon he started sharing some of his childhood that he shared with Davos. He told me that he was in his mid-forties and he had served his family for a long time. Davos was always with the family even in the hard times, he was professional towards his work but he always made sure Aarav never felt alone. Well you never know your destiny, it always arrives. From what I could see in Aarav he had a lot of emotions thinly veiled under his stoic face he usually maintained. As I heard the evening prayer bells from a distance, the driver told me that we were close to the mansion.
As we were approaching the valley side, I could see it from a distance it looked old and a bit worn out, I wondered how great it would have looked like some 25 years ago. The car halted and we approached the mansion, I could still hear the temple bells and the evening was getting chilly as the sun was going down. Aarav knocked the door a few times and he heard a sound but he didn’t look amused. The gate opened and we were greeted by a young looking lad. Aarav sighed.“I was expecting that I would be greeted by Tom, may I know where your father is?” The young man fumbled but suitably replied: “I am John and my father sent me here to look after the mansion because his prolonged illness couldn’t allow him to work anymore.”
Aarav had a look of disappointment on his face he wasn’t happy with himself. I knew what he was thinking, it was the same feeling of regret about that one man who he could call his family and there he was soon to be taken from him.
We had the night to spend there and our luggage was done up with. I went up for a chat with Aarav, he told me that he had decided that they would go out to meet Davos next morning. I could see what those memories meant to him. I agreed and told him that I would be joining him. Inside I somehow felt that we would get to know more about his parent’s case. I didn’t know what the coming days might bring but I just looked up into the night sky, stared and went to sleep.
The next day I, along with Aarav and John took up a ride to the hospital where Davos would be. It seemed a fine ride along the valley towards the hospital. I plugged in my earphones and I was listening to a few songs along the way. I don’t remember but I took a nap and I woke up to some loud voices. I looked towards Aarav but he had the same confused and worried look. John at that moment was trying to take some sharp sudden turns with the car. Just then all of us realized that we had two bikes chasing us. We took a few more turns and we couldn’t shake any of them off. John knew about this place and this is when he took control. He held the steering as he raced downhill towards the town. The two of us had no idea on how to get out of this situation, those bikers were not going that easily. I believed that they were certainly attempting an assault on us. But why would someone want to have us under assault, was it related to Aarav’s parent’s death or even Davos as I was thinking all of this I realized that John had turned the car into the valley side and we were driving among trees with a forest cover alongside. I realized that we had shrugged off the riders.
John stopped the car and we all took a deep breath. All of it was certainly exhausting just then I took a look at Aarav and realized he had the same questions as I did. And those questions were bigger than ever. He knew something was wrong over here and that was related to his parents too. So we decided that it is very important to see Davos as his life might be in danger. John took the steering and we were out of the hillsides in no time. We were about to reach the hospital and I was wondering if few questions would soon be answered.
Tying up loose ends
Before I continue the story, I would like to introduce myself. All this while, you had been reading this from his point of view. What I’m going to mention next, might make you hate me and highlight me in your bad books. Let me warn you before, I’m not your regular protagonist. I’ve done things that you might feel are cringe-worthy, but where I come from it’s an absolute necessity. So if you want to continue further and want to know the truth, then you have to bear with me.
So, panting and gasping for breath, we took the elevator and turned up to the floor where Davos was admitted. The hallway seemed familiar for some unknown reason. John took us to his father’s ward. We entered the room and saw that Davos Sr. was sitting upright on his bed as if he was waiting for us all this while. We walked up to him and he looked at me as if he knew everything that was going on in my head. There was something wrong with this place. It had a really strange aura surrounding it. I realized my time was running out and so was his. The doctor entered the room just as Aarav was about to speak.
“What’s the matter? How are you able to sit?” He turned towards us. “Did you guys help him to sit?” He went past us to check his pulse and heart rate. With a weird, surprised look on his face, he turned towards John and whispered, “I don’t know how he did this but all I know that he doesn’t have much time. His pulse is not responding normally and his hands are almost freezing. I’m going to give you the room for the time being.” The doctor walked away after consoling John whose eyes were ready to burst with emotions. The teary-eyed John walked up to his father and held his hands. “You have always made me proud, John. I just wanted you to know that. Whatever happens to me, I’ll be assured that you will never let the family name go in vain.” He turned towards me, “Always remember, family always comes first. Never let anything come between you and your family.” I felt as if he was directly referring to me. A person whom I had never known of, never seen, never spoken to, suddenly gives me life advice. Even though I know it’s only up to a human to speak about people without knowing them still, I felt there was something strange about this man.
Just as Aarav wanted to utter something, Davos started panting for breath. He began coughing up blood and fell over on his bed. We panicked and Aarav leapt over to check. I couldn’t understand what to do. So I called out for the doctor. Meanwhile, Aarav held his hands and rubbed his chest. “There are things that are gonna ha…happen to you….and they won’t b…be pleas…pleasant. Be aw…Be aware son.” And just like that, his soul left his body and his eyes and mouth were left wide open.
It surely wasn’t a pleasant sight to see. But after all that I had witnessed and done before, it didn’t seem much of anything. But it really did break Aarav and John. The doctor rushed in and he asked us to vacate the room. I realized this was the perfect moment. I was already running late. I used this moment to console Aarav. “We should head towards home.” Aarav with a heavy heart nodded. “Let John stay here then,” he said and just as I wished he would say. We hopped in the car and drove right away without any further stops on our way. Let me take this time to tell you what I actually meant earlier.
I’m not from here. By here I mean, not from this universe. It’s not what it sounds like. I come from an alternate dimension. A world similar to this world, just a little different. How did I end up here then? Well, it’s all a little complicated. I lost my parents in an accident when they were on their way to the hospital. Their car crashed with a truck, supposedly. The car was shattered but there was no trace of a truck. The fact that is so ridiculous about this is that their bodies were never found. I dedicated my entire life to find the cause of the accident. What I realized in the process was that there is a wormhole that connects my world with this one. Sounds strange, but I assure you it’s true. That’s how I am here in the first place. All it needs is a collision at a very certain velocity, which was satisfied by the same collision that occurred during their accident. Somehow I believed they came here. Call it fate, but after looking at the picture in Aarav’s wallet, I was assured that he is my brother. Isn’t it strange that I spend just one day in this new, unknown world and I meet my brother, about whom a day before, I had no idea about his existence. All of this seems like it was meant to be. Like it was all pre-planned like someone layed it all out for me.
So here I am, to bring my parents back to my world and complete my family all together. The reason why I can’t stay here with them is that the time is running out. And before the sand drips over the other side of the hourglass, I need to reach my world or else, the time chasers will hunt me down. Just like the ones that attacked us on the way to the hospital. It all seems so made up, doesn’t it? But my very existence depends on this fact. All my life, I have experienced nothing but pain and trauma. Had my parents not disappeared that night, I wouldn’t have been motivated to become such a good detective today. All I want is to complete my family. At least they should know how well I am today.
Meanwhile, Aarav was trying hard to initiate a conversation with me, to kill the tension in the air. But he wasn’t able to think of anything suitable to utter I believe. That is so like me. My little brother is just like me, I thought. “We have like, the same kind of ring on the same finger. How cool is that! What are the odds?” he came up with something, even I didn’t notice at first. “Yeah, I know right?” I replied. How foolish of me on missing out such a crucial detail. I mean, I could check a photo in his purse, but couldn’t notice his ring, I cursed myself. I began my science of deduction to make myself feel better. Aarav’s hands were almost similar to mine, I noticed. He had a pointed nose and broad eyebrows, just like me. But he had slightly brownish pupils than mine. The weather suddenly started to change and the clouds grumbled upon us.
We finally reached our destination. My heart was pumping more blood than ever, my adrenaline was rushing as if I were just born. I was about to see my parents after 25 years. I couldn’t wait to see my family come together. I was feeling all of this and a lot more. Aarav rang the bell as we walked up to the door. A girl in her mid-twenties opened the door, wearing a worn out saree. I assumed she was the maid. A voice from upstairs screamed. “Aunty is in labour. Her water broke. We have to rush to the hospital as soon as possible.”
For a moment, I stood there dumbstruck. I couldn’t believe what actually was going on. The storms raged outside. Then all of a sudden, I saw my Baba helping my Maa to come down the stairs. All these years I had only imagined what would they’d look like if they were still alive. They looked exactly the same. My Baba still donned his the same French beard just like I remember. My Maa wore an old maxi, with hair all tied up, just like I remember. 25 years I had stayed away from them, but now they were here, standing right next to me. This was our little family reunion.
“Aarav, you stay here, and Gauri will be present here all the while if you need anything. We need to rush to the hospital immediately,” he said and rushed towards the car. My Maa and Baba went past me. She still uses the same perfume, I thought to myself. I saw both of them looking at me. But surely not realizing who I was. They both had the same look on their faces, that they had 25 years ago. That is the last thing I remember vividly about them. They all rushed into the car. I realized it was a perfect time. Everything was happening just like before. I couldn’t waste more time. The car just drifted away briskly. I realized his speed was just perfect for the collision to take place. I swiftly took the car keys from the key jar. “Bhaiyya, where are you going now?” Gauri asked. “Believe me Gauri, I need to be with them at this moment,” I replied and rushed out of the door and saw a car named Ferraro 360 Spider parked right in front of the garage. I believed it to be this world’s Ferrari. I wondered what did they name Ferraro Rocher chocolates then. But I felt like it was the most appropriate car for the moment.
I took the road less travelled by and drove her like a sprinting horse. Anyhow, I had to reach before them in order to gain a head’s up. Somehow, drifting and avoiding the traffic, I reached the desolate highway before them. I was sure that they took the road which had a lot of traffic and it slowed them down. So I waited for them at the perfect distance to collide with them and jump back to my world. Everything was occurring just as I had calculated it would. The clouds gathered over my head. I saw flocks of birds all heading in the opposite direction. There surely was a storm coming.
There they are, I said to myself as I saw a pair of headlights rushing towards me. I reversed my car back to gain the exact momentum required. Just as I created the perfect distance, I knuckled the seat-belt and hovered my foot over the accelerator. I was like a raging bull, ready to kick off anything that came in my way. Just as they crossed the position, I had marked earlier, I pressed my feet against the accelerator with all my strength. This was it. I had to do it because it was now or never. This was the only chance I was ever going to get to reunite my family back together. And I couldn’t let anything come in between. I saw them getting closer and closer. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I could feel my heart thumping and blood oozing out of my eyes. I heard a loud thud and felt an exorbitant jolt over my entire body and my face was pressed against the airbags. I realized we had rushed into each other and we jumped back into my world. My limbs were not supporting me, my legs weren’t in a condition to stand. But I did somehow. I realized my entire journey of reuniting with my family was complete. What I didn’t realize was that neither of them did survive the crash. I ran, limping towards the car and witnessed disfigured faces covered with blood and chunks of glasses surrounding them. One slice of glass tore my mother’s womb. I just dropped on the floor. I did not faint. I was in full consciousness of my being. I just couldn’t imagine all that I ever did reunite my family, would be the cause for them splitting apart.
Everything went just according to my calculations, but it was time who ditched me, which in turn closed the wormhole. All I was left with were three dead bodies in a stranded, desolate highway. I lay there on the floor with swollen eyes, a fractured leg and paralyzed limbs, as I heard the time chasers’ bikes nearing towards me. I realized at least now I could share my space with them together, in the stars. At last, my dreams of sleeping together under the stars would come true. I realized now my time had come.
– Shubham Banerjee
– Sakhsham Kulshrestha
– Sagnik Chakraborty
– Shubham Pal Chowdhury