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Jul 24, 2020

Mystery

“I think.... is she dead?” I stand over the little girl, gulping, drops of crimson falling from my dagger onto her cadaverous face. She almost looks like she’s back alive like that, the blood seeping into her cheeks, giving off the guise of a deep blush. 


“She looks beautiful,” I remark, still talking to myself, with awe in my voice, a look of wonder on my face.


Aaaand scene,” Ryan strikes the clapper, motioning for the props crew to clear the setting. His eyes never leave me, though. Too exhausted to care this time, I’m determined, pushing past everyone, mapping out my footsteps on the shortest way to my dressing room, when a clammy hand grabs my arm. I know it’s him even before looking, and he’s squeezing it tighter than he needs to. I wince to the side before plastering on a sickly smile, eyes blinking too fast. 


“That was incredible, Qara...truly your best take yet,” his voice drawls over my skin just as his beady eyes do, triggering a shiver all over. I try to pull away discreetly, but his fingers grip on just the little bit tighter. I’m still blinking rapidly, but I’ve played this game before. If I’m smart about it, a few more minutes and I’ll be out. 


“Why thank you, Ryan. I really tried to give it my all today, what, after like a hundred takes?” A small smirk, a cat's kiss of the eyes, a brief caress of his hand still on my arm, and I knew I’d done it. He lets go, eyeing me like he knew all my secrets. Everything, from the time I thought my baby brother would float and almost pushed him down the elevator, to the tiny birthmark above my right hip. I’m pretty sure I’m sweating all over now, that he sees it and it fills him with perverse, resplendent excitement. He considers me for a moment, before reminding me that I’ll see him tomorrow on set and leaves with his customary wink. 


My whole body convulses, and I’m suddenly aware of the tattered costume that barely covers my damp skin. It feels as though everyone’s watching me, with intent, like wolves who haven’t eaten for days. Like wolves who’ll rip me apart, leave me half alive and take me back to their children, howling at the sympathetic moon, satisfied with their meal.


Of course, no one is watching me, but Donovan Carter is. He mouths something like “happy birthday” to me, shoots me a grin, and walks off. He’s up next to shoot for his new zombie action movie, and all the staff are scurrying around to get everything ready. I personally never understood how the masses could devour such cliche cinema time and time again. Then again, I’m not part of the masses. Well, at least not anymore.  


My dressing room is just how I left it, I think.The clothes I arrived in lay crumpled on the plush cream sofa. A glass half filled with red wine sits atop the smudged makeup counter, it’s base precariously hanging off the edge, much like me. The rest of my belongings hug the far corner of the tiled floor, and I can see the glint of the knife’s edge. That’s when my mind starts talking to itself again, questioning what I already know. Was the knife under your bag when you left? Why is the knife even here in the first place? Were you meant to carry it today? Someone has been in your room, and they must have seen it. 


No. No one has been in this room, no one could have been in this room. And even if they had, they couldn’t have thought anything of it. Oh, that? Haha, it’s just an extra in case something happens to the one I’m acting with, I’d not-so-convincingly say, and they’d look at me weird, but that would be that. 


You won’t have to say it, you’re the only one who has the keys to the room. It’s not an opinion. It’s not a false memory. It’s a fact. I have to keep reminding myself it’s a fact. 


***


The ironic thing about fame is that it gets you no closer to being known. Superficially, yes, but truly being known? You’ll be chasing it for days and weeks and months and years, only to figure out that even a lifetime of being revered by strangers won’t make you feel less alone. 


I often find myself reminiscing about the early stages of my acting career; it’s the only hobby I can afford to do that doesn’t involve me living in my miserable present. 


Qara, you’re so talented...I’m putting money on her becoming the next big thing...Priyanka Chopra featuring in Hollywood could never...This is gonna stack up so well with cultural integration in our new series...We’ll finally be able to entice the Indian demographic...We’re going to be the bellwethers of a new industry…


I thought it was everything I wanted. It was everything I wanted, and more. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough and I hadn’t been prepared for the amount of pressure, expectation, and anxiety that came with it. I had people who loved me, praised me, wanted to be me, yet I wasn’t even comfortable with myself. I also garnered criticism, a lot of it. Hate in the form of bland insults that were made to sting, and they did. They got me, right at my core, questioning my mere existence. I couldn’t bare well in relationships either; always overthinking and unintentional public exposure ruined something that was doomed from the start. On top of that, fellow actors, crew members, and even directors would sidle over to me. They’d whisper sweet nothings in my ear that were meant to mean everything. It was producer Jack. It was photographer Simon. It was scriptwriter David. It was choreographer Mark. It was director Ryan. It was even Donovan Carter. 


Hollywood doesn’t turn you into a star. It turns you into satire.

***

I open the door to my humble two story house, pursing my lips at the memory of social media blowing up about how I was so modest, buying a normal apartment in a normal secluded neighbourhood, like I was normal. It hadn’t worked though- I was still by myself. No comment from the 14 year old fangirls could have changed my solitude. 


My living room is just how I left it, I think. The fan is still running, an overlook on my part in the daily morning rush. The two plates lay unwashed in the sink, lasagna from the night before scattered on the edges, much like me. The dress hugs the back of a locked door, and I can see how bright it’s sequins shine. That’s when my mind starts talking to itself again, questioning what I already know. Was the dress hung there when you left? Why is the dress even there in the first place? Were you meant to leave it out so blatantly? Someone has been in your house, and they must have seen it.  


No. No one has been in my house, no one could have been in my house. And even if they had, they couldn’t have thought anything of it. Oh, that? Haha, it’s just the colour of the dress. No, really! Yes, I know it looks like blood, but it isn’t! The dress is red, a beautiful shade, isn’t it?, I’d not-so-convincingly say, and they’d look at me weird, but that would be that. 


You won’t have to say it, you’re the only one who has the keys to the house. It’s not an opinion. It’s not a false memory. It’s a fact. I have to keep reminding myself it’s a fact. 


***

I woke up to a soft banging. Thud, thud, thud. I thought it was my dream at first, but then the floor started splitting in half and my mind started piecing everything together. Thud, thud, thud. My eyes adjust to my familiar room. Dirty dishes still in the sink? Check. Fan still rotating? Check. Dress floating on the door? Che-


Wait, what? 


The dress, it isn’t floating, no. But it’s moving, swaying from side to side, as if being nudged by a gentle wind. I eye the door more closely, the dull realisation that she was causing the movement. Thud, thud, thud. More banging, and it’s eating at my brain, sinking into my teeth, permeating my tongue with guilt and confusion and razor sharp edges that prick like acupuncture devoid of relief.


The key’s still in the lock, which makes me think maybe someone has been in my house. No...you left it there in your morning rush. Maybe. Either way, I unlock it, click, hesitantly, slowly, slightly, peering through the crack even though I’m aware no sight will meet my eyes. Only the sounds of her pleas.


“Please….I...I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done just please! Please let me out of here I swear I won’t I won’t do anything I won’t tell anyone...n-no one needs to know-” her choked sobs crack at the touch of my hand on her neck. I remember Ryan from this morning, emulating his threatening but gentle squeeze. I’ve played this game before. If I’m smart about it, a few more minutes and she’ll be done.


A small smirk, a slow blink of the eyes that adapt to night vision akin to a cat, a brief caress of her face wet with tears of solitude. I let go of her neck, eyeing her, because I know all her secrets. Everything, from the time she thought I wouldn’t reply and excitedly wrote me a letter of admiration, to the red bruise above her right hip. I’m pretty sure she’s shuddering all over now, can feel it, and it fills me with perverse, resplendent excitement. I consider her for a moment, before reminding her that today is supposed to be the day and that there’s no seeing her tomorrow, and I give her my customary sympathetic smile.


“You don’t have to do this…” she says weakly, not knowing all that I’ve gone through for this very moment.


“As if I haven’t considered that before. Besides, what if someone came to my house and somehow caught on to me harbouring a child in my guest room? No...no that wouldn’t be good now, would it?” I twirl out of her way as I sense her hand reaching towards my leg. Not that it matters, the ropes stopped her from reaching it anyway. 


“Please….not on my birthday please just give me a few more days and we can sort something out-”


Your birthday? YOUR birthday?” I spit incredulously. Maybe, maybe could have considered giving her a few more days, but not anymore. I smash the dish I had bought with me onto the floor. Specks of lasagna and pieces of the cake I had prepared spewed on to us both.


“How rich. How fucking rich!” I’m laughing now, laughing and crying and licking cake off my fingers. “It’s not your birthday, honey, it’s OUR birthday? Remember? In your sweet little letter- I still have it pinned to my beside wall, you know?-you gushed about how much we had in common and how we even shared the same birthday and how you thought you knew me like that! And then I replied and you were all ‘HOLY SHIT MY IDOL REPLIED TO ME’ and I knew I had you then and. Ahh. I just wanted someone to love me, you know? And know me like you thought you knew me. But you just had to come over and make assumptions, like everyone else. ‘You’re crazy, Qara. You need help, Qara. Maybe you should go see the doctor, Qara. Try taking on less roles, Qara. Qara Qara Qara!’  And now I have no one and I just wanted to share this moment with you, for us, because it’s our special day. I guess I’ll just cut straight to the chase now,” I laugh at my own joke at the end, about cutting. Cutting cake? Cutting her throat open? What a double edged sword! Haha! I’m on a roll.


Eager not to let this good fortune pass, I retrieve the knife that had clanged to the floor with the plate. My mind shuts off, and all I can see are her eyes begging and her lips moving. 

***


“I think.... is she dead?” I stand over the little girl, gulping, drops of crimson falling from my knife onto her cadaverous face. She almost looks like she’s back alive like that, the blood seeping into her cheeks, giving off the guise of a deep blush. 


“She looks beautiful,” I remark, still talking to myself, with awe in my voice, a look of wonder on my face.


Except I’m not acting, and this isn’t a scene from a movie, and there’s no cameras around me. It’s not an opinion. It’s not a false memory. It’s a fact. I have to keep reminding myself it’s a fact, and I don’t feel bad about it.


I just wanted to feel less alone.


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20 comments

01:57 Jul 25, 2020

Would you mind checking out my stories? I'd really like your feedback :)

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Aqsa Malik
22:35 Jul 25, 2020

Sure thing! :D

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01:56 Jul 25, 2020

"Aaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!" Was the last thing I thought would escape my mouth before I read the story. It became really chilly in here after I finished reading, I'm all wrapped up in a blanket.

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Aqsa Malik
22:36 Jul 25, 2020

Haha, I'm glad it came out intense as intended. Thank you!

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Tvisha Yerra
16:17 Jul 24, 2020

Oh my god. This was the best horror story I have read. I love how you explained everything so perfectly, and evenly spaced out! Ugh, I'll keep trying to reach the level of your writing (which is too high for a mere mortal like me.)

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Aqsa Malik
22:35 Jul 25, 2020

This is such a sweet and encouraging comment, thank you so much Tvisha! (And your writing is so good so I don't know what you're talking about!)

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Adhi Das
08:23 Jul 31, 2020

Good job 👌

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Aqsa Malik
23:09 Jul 31, 2020

Thank you!

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Courtney Stuart
00:29 Jul 31, 2020

ahhh i loved this so much! there's so much to take in here, but what i really loved is how you were able to tackle so many issues that famous people probably go through every day, like harassment, keeping secrets and feelings of loneliness. you took all of that, and brought it to a whole new level with your ability to write this as horror story! i think you also did a great job with the whole 'showing not telling' aspect of writing, and there were so many interesting details you left in this story that just pulled all of it together. and the...

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Aqsa Malik
23:12 Jul 31, 2020

Ahhh, thank you so much Courtney! I found myself thinking about the amount of celebrities that have committed suicide due to their line of work, and thought it would be interesting to explore. And yeah, I'm trying to be more aware of not relying too much on like adverbs and the likes so that I can improve on my descriptions, so that means a lot to me! Thanks again and always for your comprehensive feedback 💞

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Keerththan 😀
15:26 Jul 30, 2020

Wow!!!!!!!!!!! I loved this story. The repetition of It’s not an opinion. It’s not a false memory. It’s a fact. I have to keep reminding myself it’s a fact was great. The story was wonderful. Would you mind reading my story "The secret of power?"

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Aqsa Malik
23:12 Jul 31, 2020

I'm glad the repetition came out as planned haha. Thank you, and sure!

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Jonathan Blaauw
14:50 Jul 29, 2020

This is so great! There’s a level of depth and maturity in your writing that one doesn’t often see. I’ve never been famous before (just wanted to clarify that 😊) but you seem to have captured to hollow existence that sees so many celebrities turn to depravity. I wanted to use a fancy word there because you’ve shown in this story that you have an excellent vocabulary and you know how to use it to great effect. Twice you use the line ‘on edge – just like me’ and that’s genius, not just as a comparison between her mental state and her physica...

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Aqsa Malik
10:53 Jul 30, 2020

Haha, maybe you should be famous! (that story I read of yours was so great, I can't imagine your others being anything less.) I try to use new words in all my submissions, so that's great to hear :D I'm so glad you caught that! I was trying to portray as many styles as I could for the theme, and repetition is always a technique that I feel is super effective. Aha, that pun was brilliant :') And yeah, I don't think I've ever written a story this dark, or even dark at all lmao. It's really motivating to hear that I brought it out well. I...

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A. S.
05:12 Jul 28, 2020

That was so good! The repetition really adds to the element of her losing who she is. Reading this sent shivers up my spine. Would you be willing to read my story “Gone” and let me know what you think?

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Aqsa Malik
07:01 Jul 28, 2020

Thank you, I'm glad that came out effectively! And sure :D

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03:01 Jul 27, 2020

How could anyone not read this with that title. Great story telling 👍🏼

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Aqsa Malik
08:05 Jul 27, 2020

Aye, I'm glad the title was able to catch your attention. Thanks!

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Zainab Jagani
21:32 Jul 24, 2020

THAT IS SO MUCH TO TAKE IN. The suspense kept building up and keeps you reading." Hollywood doesn’t turn you into a star. It turns you into satire." is my absolute favorite line. I love how you've developed your descriptions they really sparked up interesting and clear images. You brought out the other side of fame really well, which people don't always see . I kept thinking of Selena Gomez for some reason and I'm astounded by everything i just read! Holy cow Aqsa, you have exceeded my brains!!! bootiful

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Aqsa Malik
22:37 Jul 25, 2020

Thank you so much Zainab! I'm glad you liked this as I tried to take a different approach on the themes I usually tackle, so this was amazing to hear! Love you always and can't wait to read yours ASAP 💞

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