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Time seemed to slow down for Goti in the moments immediately after Bablu parted ways with one third of his left hand. He saw everything in great detail, like watching one stylised long slow-mo shot of Matrix. He saw Bablu’s face frozen in mid expression, not quite out of his laughter, not quite into shock as blood sprayed out of his stump in stuttering spurts like water out of a damaged pipe. He saw the two demon-monkeys fighting over Bablu’s arm as the rest of them clambered under his stump to drink from his leaking tap of arteries, fighting with each other to get under the sweet spot. He heard them excitedly chattering in tongues too alien for him to understand, pointing at the mass of Grant Lane residents, who blissfully unaware of events unfolding in front of their eyes were still indulging in revelry. But it didn’t take a genius to figure out what they were saying. He wanted to scream, to warn everybody but he stood rooted to the spot in the grip of a strange vice-like force, unable to do anything on his own. He felt hands pulling at his collar and his legs obediently followed. Khemtu pulled him behind the freezer in the stall.
“Fuck, did you see that?”, Khemtu asked the obvious, fear clutching his voice, “What just happened man?”
They had all seen it but their brains refused to acknowledge.
“What the hell are they?”, whispered Angrez.
“Zombies”, said Dhela, “Fucking zombie attack in Burrabazar.”
“No, they look too alive and salubrious to be zombies”, said Angrez, something of an expert on them.
“What kind of a monster is salubias?”, asked Puchke Ratan.
“A convent educated one”, answered Angrez, sarcastically.
“Could be vampires too”, suggested Khemtu.
“No, it can’t be”, said Goti, having finally found his voice, “Not in the middle of the day with the sun blazing overhead. And where are the diamond skins or the ridiculously good looks?”
This philosophical discussion was interrupted by a weak cry for help. Khemtu, with his ears cocked up always for gossip, was the first to hear it. They peered cautiously from behind the freezer. Bablu, clutching his now useless bloody stump, had collapsed in a heap not far from them.
“Should we help him?”, asked Angrez, “Guy did rat us out to Karim chacha.”
“Oh come on, man. He is one of us”, said Khemtu, “Can’t just let him die.”
Slowly, carefully and with much reluctance, Dhela, Goti and Puchke crawled out of their hiding place and dragged Bablu back inside.
“Is he dead?”, asked Khemtu looking at the motionless body of Bablu.
“Probably unconscious”, said Puchke, “Lost a lot of blood though. Get me a cloth or something to tie up his arm, a handkerchief or a chunni”
“Just a sec”, said Dhela, propping up Bablu, “Let me take a selfie.”
“What the hell are you doing?”, asked Khemtu.
“What! He would want to remember this day. The picture could serve as a memento”
“Oh really! Because half a missing arm is not a good enough reminder.”
“Guys, you gotta look at this”, Goti called them out, “Shit just hit the fan.”
To say that Goti had missed the mark when he used that particular expression would be an understatement. There are times when shit hits the fan and then there are times like this when shit hits the fan and lands up in hospital. A collective gasp went through the group as they followed Goti’s finger. The roof of every house on Grant lane was polka-dotted with heads. Tiny heads, Big heads, lumpy misshapen heads and they were all looking down at the people below. As the boys watched, the arm munching pack at the stall sidled into view. Free of their misguided belief now, the boys now saw the things for what they really were. They came in varied shapes and sizes, especially the bigger ones, each very different from the one beside them. They spotted tails, horns, extra fingers, misplaced eyes, bulbous noses and other out of place features. With spindly fingers and rickety legs, the creatures on the rooftop climbed down the pipes to take their place between the humans.
The first to go was Naveen, all of five feet four inches and the resident body builder of the para. Mistaking one of the more hairier creatures as Karim chacha, he committed the cardinal blunder of slapping its back. His expression turned from one of joy to that of terror as the creature turned to face him. It picked him up like a discarded dumb-bell and shoved him headfirst, xylophone abs and all, down its throat in one swift motion. One moment, the sun was glistening on his chiselled pecs and the next he was a slushy protein shake in someone’s intestine. In fact he was eaten so fast, faster than even a Bengali eats shorshe eelish*, that anybody scarcely noticed he was gone. The boys watched in horror as a bunch of five year olds were tossed and gobbled up next, like Parle Gems. The first sign of trouble was noticed by Namita Kaki, when, dancing to the tunes of ‘Rang Barse’, she found herself staring into the grinning face of a half monkey, half porcine creature. Her shrill cry pierced through the cacophony of the woofers bringing everybody and everything to a standstill and alerting the general populace. The monkey-pig creature did the only thing it could to keep her quiet, he tried to eat her. Mid-flight, on its way to her head, his jaw connected with her two and a half kilo hand which sent him flying in the other direction. It landed on Raman kaka’s shoulders, where it promptly bit off his head. With that, pandemonium reigned. Like a harras of unfettered, frightened horses, people fled in random directions, discarding pichkaris, food, dignity, husbands or whatever else was holding them back in a bid to put more distance between themselves and the creatures. Those who managed to outrun their comrades found their way blocked by more creatures. There was no place to go. Hiding behind the freezer the boys watched as people they had known all their lives were slaughtered, eaten or thrown around like Frisbee. But here and there people were putting up a fight. Mansood chacha and his band of pot bellied bravehearts had brought down a hairy-beary creature. Karim chacha, on the other hand was talking demons after demons into submission and nobody who stood in the way of Namita kaki could escape her swinging arms.
“Whoa, what are those things doing?” asked Goti, as demons after spindly demons jumped on Mansood chacha’s back, trying, it seemed, to bring him down by their sheer volume but he would not be stopped. He picked them up by the handfuls and flung them away.
“Look at those things,” observed Puchke, as two of the demons clinging on Chacha’s shoulders shoved ropey things in his ears.
“Is that rope coming from between their legs?”
“Uggh. Is it what I think it is?”
“These creatures are going to put Viagra out of business,” commented Angrez dryly.
“Look, look, what’s happening to Chacha.” Mansood Chacha, who even a moment ago, was fighting like Bhim, the Pandava prince, had suddenly gone limp. His shoulders drooped and all the fight seemed to leave his body. His eyes became unfocussed and glassy. Dragging his feet on the ground, he slowly tottered away from the battlefield, unmindful of the bodies he stepped on. He didn’t get far as he collided with a lamp-post. But instead of changing his direction, he kept trying to go through it, barging into it again and again. Similar fate had befallen Namita Kaki too who was stuck in a loop, repeatedly bringing her hand to her forehead and wiping off the sweat and grime, even though the only thing she succeeded in doing was chafing her skin. Karim chacha on the other hand, was behaving like a rabid dog, punching and biting anyone he could get his hands on, demons and humans alike, until one of the creatures backslapped him. He executed a graceful pirouette before falling down unconscious
“Mindfuck,” said Dhela in an awe-struck voice.
“I don’t know about you guys but I don’t plan to stick around and wait for my turn with them,” said Angrez.
“Angrez is right,” agreed Goti, “But what do we do about Bablu.”
“We need to do something about his arm. At this rate he is going to die of blood loss,” said Khemtu.
In response, Puchke tore a table cloth from one of the plastic tables in the stall and wrapped it around the stump. He wound his belt around it and clasped it tight. Next he filled up an empty plastic bag with ice halfway, then inserted the stump in it, covering it up like a gauntlet and again tying with it Khemtu’s belt.
“Nicely done”, said Dhela, “How do you know all these?”
“I live dangerously”, answered Puchke, rather cryptically.
“We need to call the police”, suggested Khemtu.
“Yeah? And tell them what?” That a bunch of aliens are attacking us?”
“At least we gotta try”, said Khemtu, punching 100 in Dhela’s mobile, “Hello, Hello police station?”
“Kindly refrain from shouting and state your problem”, drawled a voice from the other side.
I stay in Burrabazar, Bysack Para. We are under attack.”
“Who is attacking you?”
“I don’t know. They are not humans, something else.
“What do they look like?”
“Not human-y. Red. Green. Saffron. Big. Monstrous. They are slaughtering everyone. You need to help us. Send in everyone you got. And send them with bombs and guns. These things are unstoppable and… and… they can control minds.”
“Buddy, there is only one thing that needs to be stopped right now. Your consumption of bhaang. And don’t try to prank call again. I will find you and throw you behind bars.” And the line disconnected.
“That went well”, said Goti, “Now what”
“First we need to get out of Slaughter Street and then think of what to do next”, said Puchke.
“Finally”, said Angrez.
The boys sneaked out of the stall and made their way into a narrow back alley, squeezed in between two buildings. They were hampered by Bablu, whom Khemtu had refused to leave back and was now being carried in between him and Dhela.
“Where do we go?”, asked Puchke, keeping an eye on the rooftops.
“I would say, the hospital”, said Goti, “Get him in there, go to our homes and get out of here”
“The Guru Sahib Nursing Home is in the Ram Mohan Lane, right? It’s not very far from here”, said Khemtu.
“Do you think there are more of them?”, asked Angrez.
“Let’s hope not”, said Goti, shivering slightly at the thought of them, “I counted about sixty or seventy there.”
They turned left into another narrow alley and crisscrossed through them and landed up in Ram Mohan Lane, less than fifteen minutes later.
“Back, Back”, whispered Puchke, reverse stepping.
“What, what, what”, the rest of them asked, skidding to a halt.
“Three of those creatures”
Angrez poked his face out, warily, from behind the house. A curious and shocking, albeit not surprising, sight presented itself to him. Three creatures, hairy and in hospital robes, were playing what seemed like a cross between football and handball, with a woman’s head.
“Shit”, what do we do now?”, he asked, as raucous cries of what seemed like glee, rang out from the street behind him.
“Well”, said Goti, after he too had taken a look, “The good thing is we don’t have to walk past them to get to the hospital. They are playing a little farther down the road from it.“And the bad thing is-“
“There’s no way we can get there without the creatures spotting us”, Angrez completed his sentence.
“If we can reach there, we can shut the doors”, said Khemtu.
“That’s a big if”, observed Puchke.
“For the love of God, stop clicking pictures, you idiot”, demanded Khemtu, in hushed angry tones to Dhela.
“Sorry, it’s not everyday you get to see such things. You know how much IndiaTV pays for shit like these”, he said.
“If they see you, it will be the last thing you see”
“Has anybody noticed that they are wearing hospital robes?”
“Yeah, we all did”, said Puchke, “So?”
“So if they are wearing hospital robes, then what are the hospital staff wearing?”
“More importantly, where are the hospital staff? I see no guards, no patients waiting, none of the usual traffic”
“Dead or Fled”, said Angrez.
“I say we still go in there”, said Khemtu, “If nothing else, we can take some medicine for him, from the supply shop inside”
“But how do we get there?”, asked Dhela.
“Why do we have to go there? Why take the risk? Let’s just take him to one of our houses”, said Angrez
“You know guys”, said Goti, slowly, aware of Khemtu’s gaze on his face, “I kinda agree with him on this”
“Because, genius”, said Khemtu, testily, “If we don’t wash and tie his wound with proper bandages and stuff, he will die of infection. This table cloth is not doing him any favours.”
“I really want to run but I don’t want him to die either”, said Dhela, adding his two pence in the discussion.
Goti sighed. He didn’t want to be the asshole coward who decided to save his own skin when the hospital was two steps down the street, though that was exactly what he wanted to do. He knew, even Angrez, who was most vocal with the opposition, was thinking the same thing and was in all probability arriving at the same decision.
“There are two big waste vats there”, said Puchke after he had scoped the street once more, ”between here and the hospital. Those large rectangular dustbins. We can take refuge behind them on the way but the last few metres to the hospital are open. They will see us.”
“Let’s make sure they can’t catch us then”, said Goti, “On the count of three-”
“One. Two. Three”
Several things happened in the next few moments. The boys stepped out in the open. One of the creatures kicked the head really hard. The head flew into a graceful arc and landed on Angrez’s head. He was knocked out cold. And the boys were spotted, of course.
The air became still, the moment silent. The two groups regarded each other, each one sizing the other up. There was but one thing to do. And the boys did just that. They screamed. Then ran in the opposite direction. With two leaps and three bounds, one of the creatures landed right in front of the fleeing group forcing them to come to a grinding halt. It was a brawny creature with ruddy brown fur covering most of its body. Its skin, where it was visible, was of pitch black colour and grainy in texture. In contrast to its furry body, its head was completely devoid of fur or hair. Its cat like eyes, were the most prominent feature on its face, probably because of the absence of eyebrows. It was tripedal, with one hind-leg, thicker, slightly smaller and muscular than its two fore-legs. It slowly advanced on them, breaking into a lopsided leer as it did so. They shuffled back hastily. Dhela who was half carrying, half dragging Bablu on his back, stumbled and fell down, causing the rest of the gang to trip on him and crash too. Goti, the only one left standing, frantically looked for ways to escape. The other two creatures were closing up on them too. Fire and frying pan. They advanced forward with slow, definite steps. The brawny creature flicked out its tongue, tasting the fear precipitate in the air. It gnashed its teeth, eliciting an involuntary whimper from Khemtu. The creatures were playing with their would-be victims and if it had continued for long, their victims would have died of a heart-attack rather than with fangs at their throat. But the smallest of the lot, a purplish-black creature with a sunken belly and pendulous breasts lost patience and launched into a premature attack. Its posture was good, so was its pickup. Unfortunately its timing was slightly off and instead of landing on his shoulder as must have been its intention, it landed at Goti’s feet, who channelling his inner footballer instincts, kicked it with all his might. The creature smashed through the window of one of the buildings. Loud crashes were heard, then high pitched screams and finally the thump-thump of a body being slammed against the wall. A second later, the creature flew out of the same window, involuntarily this time around too.
“Did you see that? I just… I just-”, he said, pointing excitedly to the slumped body of the creature. “How coo- whumpf” The rest of his words were drowned under the gelatinous bottom of the third creature. Goti’s action caused the other guys to shake off their stupor and with a cry Puchke launched into an attack. Beside Dhela, Khemtu chanted the Hanuman chalisa, ‘Jai Hanuman, gyan gun sagaar-‘ With a hop and a skip the brawny creature landed near them and pirouetted on its hands, its legs rotating like helicopter blades, caught the boys on their chest and chin respectively and sent them ploughing through the ground, buttfirst.
“So that’s what the third leg is for”, commented Khemtu, drunkenly before falling down disoriented. Dhela, who had remembered to put up his arms at the last moment, had better luck. The brawny creature stopped to examine the supine bodies of Angrez and Bablu, the former slowly stirring into consciousness. This provided Dhela a moment of respite. He saw Puchke and Goti tussling with one of the creatures. Puchke repeatedly struck him with his switchblade knife but it hardly left a scratch on him. Dhela noticed a broken leg of a four-legged walker, used by old people, lying in one of the waste vats. He picked it up. He sneaked up on the brawny creature, who had become distracted by the thought of food, it seemed. Gathering up all his strength, Dhela whacked the creature on its jaw. It staggered sideways from the blow. Swinging his stick like a sledgehammer, like he had seen heroes do on screen, Dhela brought it down immediately on the shiny bald pate of the creature. The impact of the blow caused the stick to break in two.
A furry hand shot forward and caught Dhela by his throat. He struck at the hand with his stick to no effect. The grip became tighter. Dhela struggled for air and in desperation tried to pull the hand off of him. And it worked. Howling in pain, the creature let him go. He seemed just as shocked as Dhela at the sudden turn of events. Boy and creature both noticed the imprint of Dhela’s hand, burnt into its forearm. The creature seemed hesitant to attack again. With a battle cry, Dhela tackled him on the ground and grappled with his face. Like a red hot smoldering iron, his hands burnt into the creature’s face, eating away its face. “Taste the power of the Human Torch, bitch”, he shouted. The creature flailed in pain and threw Dhela off him.
Goti thanked his stars that he had Puchke by his side. The boy had always been good at fighting and his days with the gang had only honed his skill more. With Puchke’s prowess and Goti’s backseat fighting, they had succeeded in bringing the creature down. It helped that their monstrous opponent wasn’t very monstrous after all and very susceptible to blunt force trauma. Sure he seemed highly resistant to Puchke’s knife but that formed the sum of his fighting tactics. Plus he was a skinny ass bitch and in the end a few well placed jabs at its face was all that took to knock him out. They now turned their attention to the final pair of combatants.
Dhela had his creature backed against the wall. Both seemed reluctant to engage, especially the creature. Part of its face was mangled.
“Guess what”, Dhela said, as Puchke and Goti flanked the creature from either side, “I am a super-fucking-hero”
“What?”, asked Puchke.
“My righteous touch burns them”, he joked and then added seriously, “I think its my silver colour. The shopkeeper had said that it had some speshial ingredients. Wanna watch me burn him?”
“Careful now”, Goti cautioned him. Dhela feigned moving to his left side and as the creature raised its hand to block him, he slapped it on its right. The flesh on its cheek sizzled like a grilled tandoori. The creature hissed.
“What did I say?”, gloated Dhela, “Now watch a maestro work. I am gonna burn its face right off its face.” He laughed at his terrible line, “You don’t mess with Bysack Para-wallahs”
Dhela moved forward, palms out. The creature shrank from him. Emboldened he extended his arms. With a sudden fish like movement, the creature swooped in through the gap between his arms, bobbing up in front of Dhela’s face and caught him in a deadly embrace.
“Nooooo”, Goti screamed as Dhela’s ribcage imploded under the bone crushing hug. A sigh escaped his lips. Goti and Puchke watched in horror as their friend’s limp, lifeless form slid to the ground and the creature made its escape.
Written by Rohan Sarkar Illustration by Arghya Das