A burly looking surly officer lumbered towards the fireplace, and took a seat in its closest vicinity, with the ensuing screeching shriek. He was hardly in par with the yardstick of masculinity, with his behemoth physique and boisterous disposition.
Leaning forward, he presented me with his first question of the interrogation session.
"For how long have you known the Nelson Publishers?"
His close proximity frazzled my nerves, and I staggered back on my seat. Seeing the pallor spread on my face, he mouthed an apology, and leaned back onto his arm chair.
"Just a few months. I was in the process of completion of my novel 'The Unexpected Return,' dedicated to my late husband," I replied confidently.
The officer gazed at me pensively, supporting his chin on his knuckles, and thought for a while. Dragging the chair forward with a screech, he stopped before me, invading my personal bubble.
"Ah! I've heard about that book!" he exclaimed, spitting out his saliva in the process.
I grimaced at him, and turned away to look at the wall. At that moment, the wall seemed more soothing for the eyes. I was never anthrophobic, but people such as the uncouth officer sitting before me, always managed to disconcert my nerves.
"Your book states something about your dead husband's unexpected return. I know, the book hasn't been published as of yet, but somehow I came to know its summary by word of mouth," he said enthusiastically.
I glared at him, my gimlet gaze enough to get him back to his sang froid mode. But the very next instant, he retrieved his obnoxious attitude.
"The title itself indicates your eccentricity. Which normal person would expect her dead husband to return to her? Moreover, the idea of rampage killing of a whole publishing team cannot stem from a normal mind," he continued..
I tried hard to keep down my petulance and said, "Elaborate your implications."
"This conversazione here," I said, rotating my finger to show him the whole room, "is for a steady conversation, not riddles or unpleasant innuendos."
The officer burst into an acerbic guffaw that spent chills down my spine.
"Pardon my brazenness. I tend to be informal even at my workplace. It is my belief, that spontaneity is the key to being successful at your workplace."
"However, when spontaneity gives way to lecherous behavior, it becomes unprofessional of you," I replied calmly.
The smug look on his face faltered, giving way to a grim expression. He hefted himself up from the chair and started walking towards the door.
"Sometimes, you need to cross the toed by your profession in order to get your work done. It's either by hook or by crook."
I slammed the door shut shortly after he had left and returned to my safe haven - my wicker rocker, the root of my creativity - one that incites my imagination and contemplation.
I'm Azra Morath, very azure eyed, the deep ocean likened to the inaccessible abyss of my mind and gaze, extremely homely, yet comely by word of mouth. I'm the daughter of an Ottoman seamstress, who had married me off to a German Captain Lieutenant, Alexander Morath. I was barely out of my teenage, when I was thrusted into the domestic world, that weighed me down with its responsibilities. I was still wet behind the ears about the conjugal duties of a wife, for I was neither sensitized to it during my puberty, nor was my husband ever around to guide me properly.
My purportedly halcyon days were completely wasted on a futile ladyship, futile ostentations before propriety and a frustrating solitude in a large estate. My late husband was always overseas and hardly ever paid any visit to me, which took a toll on my health. I was shunned by the propriety as my husband's prolonged absence from home raised questions on my fertility and fidelity.
To exacerbate my misery further, the news of my husband's death was broken to me during the lowest ebb of my life. His ship was attacked by a British foe ship mid-ocean, and reportedly none of the crew members had survived the attack. However, the fact that his body could not be found gave away the possibility of his survival.
I never had the chance to bond with my husband like normal spouses, hence there was no room for developing feelings for him. However, his permanent absence from home boosted me hunger for company. So, being the barren woman that I am, I found my escape in the prizes legacy he had left behind - his books, ones that he had kept stockpiled in his library.
My incipent poetic creativity was fanned by his books, which further matured my expression, style and articulation. During the initial days, I could hardly find any motivation, for being distracted by my loneliness. But the secret chamber behind the makeshift library shelf had opened up the portal to my creativity.
I had picked up a journal out of the many ones that laid scattered on the table. As I was flipping through its blank pages, a strange source of inspiration gripped my being, one that went on to bolster free flow of my words.
When I had finally finished inking the journal with my story, a strange sense of satisfaction and determination surged up within my system. This nascent writer, who did nothing more than make an innocent decision of writing in an old journal, could finally picture her dead husband within each page of her writing. Life began to feel supple, and my grief for the absence of a complete family was overshadowed by my budding creativity. My stories complete me, and enliven my marital life.
I had dedicated many stories to my husband, which I mainly kept to myself, owing to my private nature. However, when the opportunity of providing widespread recognition to my stories presented itself at my door, I couldn't turn my back on it.
I always had a habit to keep a backup of all my stories, and the provision of a baker's dozen journals that came in handy, came off as an advantage. I had sent my first story to the publishers hoping for a positive response from their side.
But the initially cooperative team had abruptly stopped responding to my calls and summons. Being new to the world of professional writing, publishing and its other aspects, I was nervous. I was not even aware of the terms - plagiarism and copyrights.
You see, in 1947, verbal commitments had a lot of weight, and the foundation of trust was strong among the people, even in the midst of wars and epidemics. I too, had believed the sugarcoated words of encouragement coming from the team. However, I didn't realize that I was being manipulated to help them fulfil their selfish motives.
I realized my folly when a friend of mine had brought the first copy of my book that had hit the stand. I was shocked to the core by the missing credits that was due for me. I realized had been duped to ghostwrite for them, while they were basking in the fame earned at my cost. My book instantly resonated with the first batch of readers that had set their eyes on it. But, I got no congratulatory messages, or letters or even visits. I had conquered the world with a faceless, anonymous identity. Deep within, I was still the pariah, the barren lady who could neither give a child, nor keep death at bay from her husband.
Strange? Well, normalcy isn't a word in my dictionary. I would've eventually forced myself to come to terms with the betrayal, but the ensuing events that followed, sucked me deeper into the swirling mist of chaos.
I scuttled towards the library and pushed open the heavy door with a creak. I always had a habit of keeping my books in apple pie order, but a certain batch of journals had distorted that order, both literally and metaphorically.
I leaped over the scattered books on the wooden floor, and tried to push open the makeshift shelf, the door to the secret chamber, but to no avail. I pushed harder with all my might, but it only drained my energy.
Finding no other alternative, I stopped down to search for the journals among the books scattered haphazardly on the ground.
The light bulb started flickering rigorously, shaking me to the core. The croaking of the ravens in contrast up the dead silence in my neighborhood frazzled my nerves all the more. The mammoth wall clock struck nine, with a lapidifying gong.
Feeling no longer safe in my usual safe haven, I rushed out into the living room and took a seat by the fire place. Even the creak of the wicker rocker added to the eerie ambience.
My eyes fell on the glass table before me, and I noticed all the missing journals assembled perfectly, one on top of the other, including the one I had sent to the publishing team.
I pulled out a faded brown leather journal, engraved in gold. I had never taken a good look at the journals, nor did I ever wonder about their origin and history.
Thinking of them as a legacy that had been passed on by the Morath forefathers to their descendants, I stifled my curiosity and unbuttoned the journal, and started flipping through the blotched, yellowed pages.
Every morsel of my curiosity began to give way to horror, as I started flipping through the pages.
My story had simply disappeared! There was nothing, but the blank pages.
Dropping the journal on the floor, I rose from my seat and started pacing about the room, impatiently.
I scrambled through all the journals, flipping through the pages carelessly, tearing some out of frustration. I had lost the last hope I had with my story.
I sat back down, flittering with my gown. My stories were the only means to keep my husband alive in my memories, and quell my loneliness.
I sat by the fireplace, where hours had passed into contemplation. I stared at the embers, each spark sparking cognizance of past events.
Outstretching my long hand, I fetched the journal from the table and held a blank page just above the fire, in a dangling position.
28th Feb, 1873,
Today I transcribe the last entry of my life. Today is not a day of fiction - today is the day you'll hear about my non-fictional life. I couldn't avenge my betrayal in my mortal life, so I expect to extrapolate this pending action into the afterlife.
Billy, my nephew, the orphan whom I had raised as my own, has stabbed in the back. Let me get straight to the point.
I was a bare teen, when my brother and his wife had passed away in a fire that destroyed our summer house in Berlin. I was entrusted with the responsibility of my infant nephew.
It was a tedious task, you know, raising a child alongside struggling with your own nascent career. I am an orphan, just like him, but the large inheritance the Lord and his lady had left behind was enough to suffice a career of my choice. But the onerous task of parenting an orphan impeded my travel overseas for the study of law. So, I settled for pursuing a career in Literature in my own hometown.
My life itself is a paradox. Even a man of the world can be naive, even an old head on young shoulders can be beguiled by a young mind. The biggest irony is that the person I had mentored and groomed, used my very own lesson against me, like a boomerang.
You know, they were right, when they said solely imparting education does not ensure the development of an educated, honorable citizen, a good human being. It also depends on the how the recipient adopts the values, integrates into his system, and applies it in his life; one that is bifaceted - positive and negative.
I had trusted him with my first project. I did not tell any other soul about my new-found creativity. He had put up an elusive façade, and I continued trusting him with more of my work, while mentoring him alongside. I was naive, I admit. But he was greedy, greedy for money and fame, even at the cost of someone else's hardwork. So what was I supposed to do? If you cannot trust your own kith and kin, then you can trust no one else on this planet.
So, here I am, ready to leave this deceptive planet with an amicable goodbye to my only confidant - this inanimate journal of mine. You were there for me when my only family betrayed me, by stealing my work. But do not fear, my friend. I'll return soon to claim back what is mine, albeit not in human form.
I threw a quick glance at the nearly illegible calendar, hung on the wall. It was the last day of the month of February.
Everything began to fall in place, as the journal slipped from my hand right into the embers. Starting from the rampage killing of the entire publishing team that had duped me, to the overnight disappearance of all the copies that were published as well in the process of publishing, to the date that coincided with the date of my first contract with the publishers, followed by the dates of the the consecutive mysterious deaths of every member of the team to the date of my recognition, that is, today.
An innocent decision of transcribing my story into a drab blank journal gave way to a chain of deaths, and gave away an underlying back story. It was too late to realize that I had unleashed an abomination, one that activated its power on every death monthiversary of its author.
But could I really call it an abomination? Could I really look at it as though one death had given way to several deaths, or one victim of plagiarism had saved another potential victim? Maybe, unleashing the abomination had given peace to a tormented soul.
I smiled to myself and was about to retreat to my bedroom, when a strange realization dawned on me.
Messages in invisible ink last only for a year. Then how is it still invisible even after so many years? Even if I consider this to be the result of the magical powers of the phantom, why did the invisible ink still persist, even after the last murder?
I wheeled around in horror, as if my brain had sent signals of caution down my nerves. There was the journal, that I had burnt earlier. It lay open on the table, and so did the other journals. The pages flipped violently, as if under the effect of an intangible blustering wind, making its way through the closed portals.
I tiptoed towards the source of my anxiety and stooped down to take a look at them. My stories were suddenly visible, and the pages had stopped flipping abruptly. I gently flipped through the pages, looking for any catch until I found the last page.
'In the wake of resurrecting your dead husband through ink, you've resurrected another dead. And, this dead will not stop unless you sensitize the world to his story.'
The pages of the other journals started flipping violently, till they stopped at the last page with the same message inscribed on them.
It was not until a decade later, that I realized what the message meant, and how it had already decided the direction my career was supposed to take.
Today, I'm a research expert, besides being an author - the author of someone else's story, rather the invisible story of a phantom, that had first warned us against plagiarism.