A Lesson via Wraith
Ten Years Ago
The wraith sat down to lunch just as Shahzaib did. He watched it lean against the brick wall and sharpen claws as big as his arms. Scriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch scriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch, it went on and on. Feeling his eyes on itself, the wraith gave Shahzaib a big grin, and continued. Sitting beside him, his father was oblivious to the monster’s presence.
“Son, what is it?” his father asked in an exasperated tone and Shahzaib realized he had not been eating but staring at the phantom for some time.
“Nothing, dad. Just tired”, he bent down over his plate. One…two…thr…dammit! The wraith met his eyes with another huge knowing smile. It knows how its presence unnerves me. Hell, I know how much it unnerves me and yet I can’t help it, thought Shahzaib.
He wrinkled his nose when the smell finally reached his nostrils. It was the wraith; it stank. The malodorous being coated everything in its smell so insistently that Shahzaib found himself gasping for breath. Its stink only added to the miasma that his neighborhood was permanently couched in.
Suddenly, Shahzaib was aware of the grinding sounds that his father’s molars seemed to be making as he ate. His irritation rose another notch as the chewing sound…chomp chomp… and the claw sharpening noise… scritch scritch…drowned out everything else.
The fingers he had just wrapped around the next bite of his roti unwound.
A second later and he was outside.
Eight Years Ago
Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring…the phone screeched into the night, jolting Shahzaib awake. His hands groped blindly until they fell on his cell phone. Three crashes later — a glass, his watch, and a book that occupied his nightstand were now on the floor — and his right hand was successful in its mission.
“Hullo?” he managed.
“You need to come home, son”, his father’s voice sounded as if someone had filled it with pieces of broken glass.
“What is it, Abba?” Shahzaib asked, half-asleep.
“It’s your mother. She is dying”, said his father.
“I…”, he started to say he would be there when a sound stopped him. Scritch…scritch…, it went, and Shahzaib’s blood froze in his veins. He was hearing it for the first time after he had left his stinking neighborhood.
He wanted to reassure his father with words. It would be laughably insufficient in the face of what his parent was going through. His wife lay dying and his only son wasn’t there with him. Yet before he could even unstick his tongue from the roof of his mouth, something shut him up.
A foot the color of the fungus that sometimes grows on stale bread had materialized in front of him. It only had two toes, both of which ended in claws as big as his arm. Unworried that it wasn’t supposed to exist, the foot just stayed plopped on the floor on the opposite side of the room.
“Abba, I can’t. I have an exam tomorrow. Medical school isn’t easy”, Shahzaib found himself saying. Another sooty foot had stopped mid-way while coming into existence. The first few words had been hard to get out but it became easier as the supernatural appendages started disappearing. By the time, he had reached the end of his brief speech, all he could see were a few tendrils of black smoke.
The 4-wheel drive braked and the engine growled its last. Shahzaib looked up from the Kobo he had in his hands. “Driver, is this the place?” he inquired from the backseat and got a nod in reply. Shahzaib pressed the button on his left and the window rolled down smoothly. The stink hit him hard, forcing Shahzaib to remember the years gone by. It is as if I’m back in that hellhole, meaning the neighborhood he had once called home.
“Is there a cowshed nearby?” Shahzaib asked the driver, already knowing the answer. As if the stink that had now rushed into the car left any doubts. Soon, it would be marinating his clothes, polluting the food he ate, and slithering into his blood.
“One of the biggest in the area, sir”, the driver confirmed before getting out and getting Shahzaib’s luggage out of the trunk.
Shahzaib closed his eyes and tried to calm himself down. There was no way I’d ever be able to stay here for a month. I would end up needing medical help, instead of providing it to the people of this village. He knelt forward and zipped shut the briefcase lying at his feet, having made a snap decision.
Scritch…and his head whipped up. Shahzaib scanned the seat next to him but didn’t see any ghastly appendages morphing into existence. His eyes surveyed the rest of the car but returned to the seat in front of him sans demon.
Scritch scritch…the noise just won’t let up, making Shahzaib look around wildly. A little girl wearing a tattered dress came into view. Right behind her walked a wraith the color of radioactive slime, sharpening its claws, which were the source of those horrible sounds.
“Li…lit…little girl, come here!” he called out to her and watched her skip towards him. When Shahzaib’s eyes kept flicking between her and the wraith, her own eyes widened. “You can see Nammo!” she said, ecstatic.
“Nammo?” Shahzaib spluttered. “You named the wraith!” he said, as he felt his brain starting to convulse in his skull.
“No, she picked it herself”, the girl answered, her brows furrowing, as if doubting Shahzaib could be as smart as she had thought he was.
“Aren’t you scared?” Shahzaib asked when he realized he was talking to a soul much wiser than he’d ever be.
“It was the scariest thing when Nammo appeared for the first time”, admitted the little girl. “After the scariest had already happened, everything else became less scary”, she said & started walking away.
Shahzaib watched stunned, as the pair walked past the car, and the wraith turned itself jaundice yellow on the little girl’s request.
Genre Philosophy, Story 5