Renaissance

“When do we do it?”, asked Abhi

“Yesterday”, said Paul

“8 pm then”

Abhi looked over his shoulder as he worked the wire cutter, jumping when a pair of headlights passed by. Paul leaned on the wall next to him and spoke on the phone for everyone to see. They were inside in five minutes.

They shone a flashlight down numerous corridors. Paul paused and thought for a second, then turned left.
“Will you know it when you see it?”, asked Abhi

“I’ll know my own work”

As it turned out, he didn’t. They opened door after door. Every room had identical paintings. 

“If we can’t spot the real ones, how can anyone?” Paul asked.

“But what’s the point? They can’t mark it up and sell if its not unique”

“They can if the buyers don’t care”

Abhi was quiet for a while.

“So all we made was printing plates for a new currency”, he said.

“Yes, to wash away old sins”

“Plan B?”

Paul looked back at the familiar canvases. “Plan B,” he said after a few seconds.

“Do you want to take one of each? Just in case?”

“That’s like a firing squad using blanks. Doesn’t mean anything”

“It does to the people in the firing squad”

“Not to the guy who got shot”

Abhi nodded, and uncapped the plastic petrol can.

“I always liked fireworks. That’s that”

Simile

Siddharth stared at the blank page, the usual existential crisis brewing in his mind. He pressed a key, then hit delete. He typed a sentence quickly, and then banged on the keyboard in frustration and filled the screen with gibberish before hitting delete again.

He got up in frustration and paced around his tiny room with difficulty. ‘Why bother?” he thought. The only writing gig he ever got was re-writing children’s physics experiments for some guy to put on his website without triggering plagiarism detectors. The only story he ever published was in the Kudumba Yogam publication that ran twice a year for his esteemed family. It was sandwiched between the ‘Best Students Appreciation Page’ and the obituary section, which got more readership than his piece. The only two people who did read his piece called his mom to say they thought he was commenting on some members of the family. He was, but he didn’t do a good job if they only suspected he was making fun of them.

He fell into his creaky bed and lay there staring at the ceiling for a while. It wasn’t all bad, he told himself. A while back, he had discovered that Kethan Biggot’s latest novel had pretty much the exact plot of a story he had posted online and forgotten about. He had written the first chapter and given it up. Kethan did a whole novel out of the same idea and signed book copies to fawning fans. It was a bitter-sweet memory that gave him some confidence about his ideas, although not his ability to finish things.

He motivated himself with that thought and got up again. He grabbed a bottle of old monk from under his bed and poured some room temperature Thums Up into it. He took a few swigs and sat down to write a story again. It was an allegorical tale about a gated apartment society that got cut off from civilization. By 3 AM, he was pretty proud of himself for completing two chapters. He hesitated before posting it on his blog. Maybe he should have held off and submitted to some publications after a few rounds of editing. But he was too proud of his new story and too jaded in life to wait. Maybe Wanderlust3423 would read it. She had liked his last two posts, and her picture was cute, so the thought excited his drunken, lonely mind. He went to bed and dreamt of wandering around pristine beaches with her as she frolicked around in a bikini and asked him to recite poetry.

A few months later, he had forgotten about the story. He got on a crowded bus, ideas for multiple stories with beautiful beginnings bouncing around his head as he headed to work. He balanced his weight on one leg and stood next to a guy who kept looking up from his phone to see if it was his stop. Sid watched him closely, meaning to grab his seat when he made a definitive move. The guy was watching something on YouTube. Sid was pleasantly surprised to see Kethan Biggot on the screen. The guy noticed Sid staring at his phone and apologetically started to plug his earphones in. “No no,” Sid said, “I’d like to see it too.” The guy smiled and held the phone at a better angle for Sid as he glanced outside again.

The interviewer was asking Kethan about his new creative venture, a TV show.

“Kethan, so far you have written books that got adapted to movies. What made you write for a TV show directly?” the interviewer asked.

“Well, I started this story intending to make it a book, but soon realized that it would simply work better on a visual medium. It was right about then that Bedflix called up asking if I had any original ideas for a TV show and I said hell yes!” Ketan said.

“Amazing. Can you tell us a little about the premise?”

“I can tell you just a bit. The synopsis will be released soon anyway. So the idea is, after a new pandemic rages across the city, an apartment complex gets completely cut off from the rest of civilization…”

Sid’s eyes widened. The bus and everyone on it faded out till only Kethan’s face and voice were left. He spoke about the psychological conflicts the characters would go through and hinted at how there would be influences of game theory in the story. “Have you heard of prisoner’s dilemma?” Kethan asked the interviewer smugly and refused to say more.

There was a commotion as Sid tried to yank the guy’s phone out of his hand when he tried to get down at his stop. He got roughed up a bit by the crowd but didn’t even notice. He ran the rest of the way to his PG after he got kicked out. He burst into his room and fired up WordPress on his laptop. He scrolled through his old posts and the few likes and comments he had got. He started noting down posts Wanderlust3423 had liked or commented on. He started seeing a pattern. An idea here, a theme there. He scrolled till he found the first post she had engaged with. He was stunned to see it was the same unfinished story that was so similar to Kethan Biggot’s third blockbuster book.

His head reeled. He found his old monk bottle and drained it. ‘This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening,’ he thought.

He debated with himself if he should tell somebody. But who would he tell? He had a sudden idea and sat down again. He clicked on the username Wanderlust3423 and found a bare-bones blog page with a contact form.

His hand shook and he felt a chill down his spine. Rage, fear, and sorrow rocked his body. He quickly typed one sentence “Have you been stealing my stories?” and hovered the cursor over the submit button.

‘Should I do it? Was this real? Was this a coincidence?’, he thought.

He paced the whole night, sitting down every half an hour or so and getting up again. Finally at 4 AM, after another bottle of old monk, he clicked submit.

He passed out cold till afternoon. He spent the evening puking his guts out and ate some cup noodles for dinner. He passed out again.

The sun rose. A knock on the door woke him up. He pulled himself together quickly, put a shirt on, and opened the door. The postman held out a registered letter and asked “Are you Siddharth?”.

He held his aching head with one hand and stared at the envelope. He ripped off the end and shook a sheet of white paper out. There was an official-looking seal at the bottom with the name of a legal firm.

The subject line said ‘Notice of impending legal action against Siddharth Rao for plagiarism of Kethan Biggot’s books’

Sid puked again.

Alive

I sat next to the hospital bed with my head bowed and watched my friend breathe. The once mighty chest rose and fell with a meekness he never showed in life. And yet, the monitors with the squiggly lines and the beeps said he was alive. Was this life? I remembered how he had behaved when someone tried to mug him. I was there, but a few seconds into the intended mugging, you couldn’t understand who was mugging who. The only explanation he gave later was “When life comes at you with a knife, you go at it with a pickax”. I smiled at the memory, but mourned the present. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I pulled the cables. I turned off the monitors and knocked over the IV drip. His eyes fluttered open and looked at me, even as his body shook and struggled. But his eyes stayed fixed on me, till it glazed over in the end. Eyes that had remained closed for the past two weeks, reopened to see the end. I kept looking back, even as they rushed in and dragged me away. They would not believe it and I did not say it, but I knew what I saw in his eyes. They saw him die helpless, unassisted. I saw him die just as he had lived, just as he had wanted- defiant.

An ultra short story I wrote in 2016 and rescued from a now defunct websiteeuthanasia

Writers camp #332

Asif sat up in his bunk with panic spilling over from his dreams to reality. The clock showed 9 AM. He looked down and cursed to see Paul already at his desk and typing away furiously. He jumped down and promptly fell flat on his face as his foot got caught in his blanket. He groaned and tried to get up again.

“Can you keep it down, please? I lost the thread I had in my head”, Paul said. “Ay biteerally schept gown”, Asif said, pinching his bleeding nose. “What?”, Paul asked. “I literally put myself down”, Asif said with some effort. “I don’t have time for your lame jokes”, Paul said and turned to his laptop, scratching his head and trying to remember the story thread he forgot.

“It’s not like you were on the verge of turning into Hemingway with your next sentence anyway”, Asif said and sat down at the desk right next to him, his elbows almost touching Paul. The labor camp authorities didn’t see the value of providing elbow space to writers. Paul tucked his elbows in with a long-suffering look and continued typing. Asif peeped at his screen quickly. “Hey, you can’t plagiarize my bloody nose when you didn’t even give a flying fuck that I got a bloody nose,” he said, angrily.

“I’m trying something new”, Paul said.

“Plagiarism isn’t new”, Asif retorted.

“Oh fuck off”, Paul said.

“If you’re trying to keep it to yourself, I can see everything on your screen”, Asif reminded Paul.

Paul sighed. “It’s a journal, except that I substitute the boring parts for something better. Like instead of a prison cell, we are on a cramped spaceship heading to Alpha Centauri, and instead of falling from your bunk, you floated up and hit the ceiling. Your blood is balled up and floating around”, he said.

“Wow, that was a hell of a lot of exposition. Haven’t you ever heard of show, don’t tell”, Asif commented. Paul snorted.

Asif felt a sudden rush of panic as he realized he lost 10 more minutes joking around. But don’t you need to do something to get inspired? This was the most eventful day in a month, except for the day when their neighboring cell inmates got into a fistfight to get inspiration for a supposed sequel to fight club. There were no issues with writer’s block in writer’s camp # 332. You write or you die. Does wonders for deadlines, even though it messes up world-building and character development. He rushed to start a new chapter on his writing software.

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