…and the last thing he felt was the cold metal blade etching through his skin and tearing his neck open as it slid across his throat”
As soon as he finished writing the last line of his first short story, he threw his arms up in the air and yelled in delight ‘The first domino. Yes!!!’
He had everything set up perfectly. The dominoes were all lined up. All he had to do now was to push the first domino by hitting the “Submit story” button on his laptop screen and he would send the Dominoes falling, one after another until there would be only one Domino left standing. Him!
Sitting in his favourite chair with only the light from his laptop screen vaguely illuminating the room, he looked at the fifty dollar prize money displayed on the right end of the screen and realized how little it meant to him. ‘Ten minutes more’ he told himself looking at the bottom right corner of the screen which displayed the time as 2350. Ten minutes more until he turns eighteen and inherits his family fortune. Ten minutes more until he can submit the story. Ten minutes more until his life changes forever.
Although he never knew his father and his mother passed away in childbirth, he never felt alone or at the mercy of God at any point in his life. His grandfather, the world-renowned cricket bats manufacturer, upon the demise of his daughter, immediately took him under his wing and brought him back to stay with him at the estate.
Although not born with one, he grew up with a silver spoon. For, if his mother had not passed away giving birth to him, he would have most probably grown up in a single studio apartment somewhere downtown, he might have ended up going to a public school and the chances of occasionally getting abused by one or more of her boyfriends (given the poor taste in men she was famous for) remained sky-high. Even though there were times when he would feel a five foot nine void in his heart, he consoled himself every time saying it was for the best that things happened the way it did.
Every year, his birthday had been a day of mourning rather than of celebration to him. It was simply adding one more layer of misery when the shadow of Death returned to him on his twelfth birthday, in the form of a cardiac arrest to reclaim his grandfather’s soul.
Before the evil world could get its claws onto him, his aunt swooped in and became his shield and sword. It was only a week later that he got to know from the man in a black coat that his grandfather had left behind the estate, its grounds, both the cars and every last penny in his name. His Aunt never for once even flinched at the thought of not inheriting even a single dime. She never needed it anyway. His mother and his Aunt were both rebels and fighters, who left home and the riches behind to make a life of their own. While his mother turned out to be a failure, his aunt had come out at the other end of the spectrum. It was only when she came up to live with him that he felt the mother shaped void in his heart slowly filling up, a little bit at a time. Although it was awkward at first, he didn’t take long to warm up to her. It took a little while but eventually, he grew fond of her squeaky little voice and the ways she called him “kiddo”. It wasn’t long before he found himself giving her permission to fill the void in his heart with the warmth of her love.
It is said that something as little as a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a typhoon halfway across the globe. If it were true, his aunt was definitely the butterfly in his life. Even though he shared the same rebellious blood as his mother and his aunt, he’d have never discovered his true passion, his love for writing if it hadn’t been for his aunt who flapped her wings by gifting him a murder mystery novel on his fourteenth birthday. It was that simple act that led to a series of events that finally brew a typhoon four years later today. It made him realize who he wanted to be in life. Against the people who stared at him when he shared his ideas, against his friends who did not believe in his dream, against all in the family who expected him to continue the legacy left behind for him and become a cricket bats manufacturer, he was determined to become a writer, and a good one at that too.
Growing up, he was obsessed with murder mystery novels. Some days, he’d even skip school to complete the novel he had been reading. He would be so fascinated with each mystery, he'd lose track of time for hours altogether. The rush he got from running along the lines, jumping from paragraphs to pages to eventually reach the last word was truly remarkable. The books which presented unexpected twists were his favourite. There was no better feeling to him while running along the pages than if there was a paper cannon pointed at his face which shot solid shots of a plot twist and yelled “Surprise”.
He looked up at the timer ticking below the number of submissions for the contest which read 499 on the right end of the screen, it displayed 00 days 00 hours 05 minutes 12 seconds. From the seven days mark the clock had started off at, it was down to five minutes and ticking. Even though his story was finished, he wanted to push the first domino as close to his birthday as possible. This was the first time in his entire life that he was excited about his birthday. By daring to choose a career path his friends and family frowned upon, he would be honouring his mother who died rebelling against the pre-established norms of the society they lived in. She might have died before succeeding but it soothed his heart to know that she died the way she lived, fighting.
The transition from a reader to a writer did not come without its setbacks and challenges. He remembered running up to his English teacher a couple of years ago, pulling her aside and telling her that he had decided to write a novel. It was the look on her face which shook him to the core, the long lingering look which only stood for a couple of seconds on her face but lasted for a lifetime in his heart. It was that look which threw him into a bottomless pit of self-doubt. A pit form which he was never able to get out, regardless of the comforting and supportive words which followed. The day he came up with the plot for “a perfect murder” for his story, she said she believed in him but the look on her face told him otherwise. She didn’t mean to discourage him but that look she had on her face was enough to convince him to give up on his dreams of writing, entirely.
As he looked at the world around him in this new light, he saw more and more people who only wanted smaller and compact forms of entertainment. There was no one he knew who shared his love for reading novels. The world had resorted to lighter and smaller packages when it came to the art of writing. People around him loved the GIF’s and Memes which conveyed something funny within a sentence and an image. Nobody had the time to sit back and read out a whole novel or appreciate the art of creating new worlds out of words. All around him were the people who spent hours and hours on social media editing their profile pictures, swiping right on dating apps and shooting each other on mobile games. What he didn’t realize was that most of these people didn’t indulge in these activities because they truly appreciated its value. Instead, it was only their desperate attempts to fit the part, to be seen wearing the same colours and flying the same flag as the rest of the word.
Even before he got a chance to display his storytelling skills, the world forced him to kill the writer within himself by convincing him that there would be no place for him in this society otherwise. Hence, he spent the following year trying to fit into the world he clearly didn’t belong to. He tried his best to mirror his high school friends. He started to listen to chartbuster songs, he spent the majority of his time playing video games and he even got a tattoo on his right arm. He was all set and on his way to filling his grandfather’s shoes by taking over the company when he turned eighteen.
The unforeseen tragedy which shook the world in the form of a virus outbreak a couple months ago was what set his life back on its initial course. As the whole world went into lockdown, he spent hours pacing up and down the long hallways of the estate thinking about his future. Distancing from his friends, the society and the rest of the world who had been constantly feeding him with an image of who he should be taught him the most valuable lesson in his life. He realized who he truly was and what he really cared about. He realized how the love for stories was always a part of him even during the time he had tried so desperately to leave them behind. The more he thought about it, the more it became clearer that even if he put on a mask and pretended to be someone else, the flesh and bones underneath shall always remain the same. For even when he was listening to chartbuster songs, he could only care for the ones with meaningful lyrics, as opposed to his friends who preferred the men who yelled onto the microphone and smashed their guitars. Even when he took up gaming, he’d play the story-driven games while his friends kept on spending hours and hours on games with repetitive goals, like the games where hundreds of random people land on the same island to try and shoot each other to death. When he got a tattoo on his arm, it read “go against the flow” in Sanskrit while his friends got the usual “Wanderlust” written or an Anchor drawn upon. He could have gotten anything under the sun inked but his subconscious chose the words which best described him. He was born a rebel even if he didn’t want to admit it to himself.
So, he decided to become the storyteller he was always destined to be and started writing his first novel. He promised himself that he’d let the people who are better off handling business to take care of his company while he focused solely on his passion, writing. He spent two whole months, day and night bent over his laptop screen until the first draft of his debut novel was complete. Even when he had accomplished something remarkable, the face of his English teacher returned to him often, staring at his manuscript with the same look on her face. These moments of self-doubt had to be eradicated and hence he went online and searched for platforms which promoted writers and soon enough found one which harboured writers from all formats and genres, from published authors to newbies. It was while scrolling through the feed he noticed that the site was holding a short story competition. It was the right kick start he needed to boost his morale before he began editing the first draft of his novel. There was a time limit for the submission of the short story though, seven days. So, he spent the entirety of the following week working on it. Crafting a beautiful story within a week, he had completed his mission and proven to himself that he was worthy. He gained the confidence he needed to slowly erase from his head the look on his English teacher’s face. His whole life’s work which lay ahead and this short story being the first domino to the most talented writer the world would ever see.
He looked up and realized that he had drifted off for far too long as the timer displayed 00 days 00 hours 01 minutes 00 seconds. He felt an overwhelming feeling submerge his chest as he hovered the mouse arrow over the ‘Submit story’ button. At that instant, he was so oblivious to everything around him that he didn’t hear the door behind him open and the muffled footsteps of a shadow creeping up right behind him. It was only when a hand stretched out and covered his mouth to muffle his screams that he realized what was happening. When he tried to get up, he felt a cold metal blade pressing against his throat. As his whole body froze, the squeaky voice which had meant warmth and compassion his whole life sent the coldest chill down his spine “Happy birthday, Kiddo”
At the moment when his mind finished solving the mystery, fitting each piece of the puzzle in its place, he looked at the screen one last time. As the timer of the clock ticked off to zero, he closed his eyes and thought of his mom. She was vibrant in her essence, and the last thing he felt was the cold metal blade etching through his skin and tearing his neck open as it slid across his throat.