Murder at the movies

Anuroop had no business hanging around the movie hall at 12:30 PM on a school day. But when you’re 17 and your body’s chemicals are still going through an existential crisis, trying to figure out what their purpose in life is, doing things that aren’t your business is what you do.

Saurav, his spike haired best chum and brother in arms in the class bunking adventure came out of the men’s room. This being a Wednesday afternoon, not many people were around in the theatre. The fact that the movie was ‘Actorg!’- a flawed action film, one of the latest imports from Quantifido didn’t help either.

“Why do these mother fuckers do these things!” Saurav said as soon as he came out of the loo. “Why do they take their patrons for granted?”

He was referring to the fact that the theatre has shifted the movie timing up by half an hour- due to some “technical problems.” And whenever he goes to the movies, Saurav swears a lot. Anuroop had ascribed this to the idea that his friends get into his ‘tough talking movie avatar’ whenever he is in the proximity of a movie screen. Saurav loves action movies. Like this one-even though they have both read the reviews that said bad things and nothing but bad things about it.

“But it has Luke Varta in it!” Saurav had  said the name of his favourite Quantifidon action hero with the relish of someone giving a victory cry after a long and arduous battle. It was Saurav’s enthusiasm(and the fact that he would buy him a burger after the movie) that made Anuroop tag along.

Not that he was complaining. Watching a matinee beat attending a Biology class any time. But the problem was that Anuroop had almost used up his entire monthly allowance. And the month wasn’t even half over. He wished his parents would see things his way- that a growing boy didn’t just need nutrition  and education but also money.

The two friends went out, shared a smoke behind a small ramschackle shop that sold cigarettes and lemonade over the counter and porn mags under it. When they returned they saw a young man in a blue shirt sitting, looking bored out of his skull, waiting for someone to walk up to the ticket booth  and buy a ticket from him.

**

“When the night is dark

And the winter long

There comes a long clawed hand

That makes you gone!”

Not exactly words worthy of Nobel but this was the kind of shit that Anuroop dug.

He was lying on his bed, scratching his balls through his boxer shorts. And though it was night, it certainly was no winter- he sweated a lot. But the music that streamed into his ears from the earpods kept him distracted from the heat. He was listening to a death metal album- his favourite band’s latest offering called ‘Illustrated death.’

The last of his pocket money was spent downloading the music the other day.

His mother had to knock some four times before he heard her. “Dinner!” she called out in a hoarse voice.

The dinner was a great spread by any definition – with fried chicken, chappathis, a  bowl of salad, rice and fish curry made with coconut milk and also a bowl of ice cream for dessert. His mother was a great cook. His father- a medical content writer for a pharmaceutical publishing company who swore that writing is as hunger-inducing a job as any physical labour enjoyed the meal sitting opposite to him.

“How was your day?” he asked at one point, munching on a piece of chapatti wrapped around a chuck of chicken.

“It was okay,” said Anuroop. The movie wasn’t all that great, though, he almost added before recalling that his parents expected him to have spent the entire day at school. “Usual,” he added for good measure.

Turning his attention back to the food on the plate he thought, this is all so boring.

He was thinking of the party his friends had planned at Kishore’s place the coming weekend- Kishore was one of his friends who was in the same class as him from the 5th standard through the 10th. When it was time to join the 11th, his father-a government veterinarian was transferred to another district and the entire family moved. Now he was here for a couple of weeks, and the coming weekend he had the house all to himself.

So, his pals have planned a beer party that night. And beer, as Anuroop had learned on the few occasions he has had it, made one ravenous, and also enabled one to enjoy food all the more- especially if it’s the meaty variety like the one on his plate.

“Have the food,” his father said. “You don’t eat all that much anymore!”

Anuroop nodded, then shoved a handful of food half-heartedly into his mouth, thinking how the food would have tasted with beer, also thinking how he didn’t have any money to buy beer for the upcoming party. His pals wouldn’t mind him turning up without cash for beer but he would still feel bad about it. As his father always said, “You should build your body but you shouldn’t be a weight to no one.”

And Anuroop didn’t like to be a weight on anyone- not even if it’s at a party where they dawned the night playing music that’s meant to wake the dead.

**

It’s not like Anuroop hasn’t asked his father-the sole breadwinner of the family for a raise in allowance. The last of these asks happened just two months ago.

But his father always came back saying that he has ample opportunities to earn money these days, so he should try and do that. “When I was your age, I used to take tuition for the kids in the neighbourhood. Now, I was nowhere near as big a film buff as you, but I did have a good time at the movies with that money!” His father would wink after saying this, as though he just let him in on a big secret-one bigger than the cover-up by the government regarding the aliens who took over the parliament a couple of years ago: if there was such a cover-up.

But Anuroop had no interest in taking tuition for kids. For one thing, it was with much hardship that he suffered through his lessons in school- a condition he could remember as being a part of his existence ever since he could remember. He rarely failed but the fact of keeping himself afloat in the ocean of studies was a pain. Another fact which he knew to be irrefutable was that anyone younger to him is a big pain in the ass- and the smaller they are the bigger the pain got.

No, teaching kids was out of the question.

“But I need some way to make money!” he muttered to himself. “I can’t just grapple with money issues every month.” And now that the Braka season begins, there are going to be a whole host of great movies hitting the theatres. The Braka was the major award event of the Quantifidon film world. And as the awards season draws nearer, the more the number of quality films that get released-so that these films would be fresher in the jury’s mind come judgement time.

I will need money to watch all those movies!

Anuroop was thinking about such weighty issues, sitting in his room’s balcony overlooking the garden which his mother so lovingly tended. The day was the first day of the term exam study leave- a stretch of around 20 days when kids were expected to eat through lessons after lessons in preparation for the upcoming tests. Anuroop was planning to get some  Braka-hopeful movies watched during this period, provided he got some money.

“But how to make money?” Putting aside the mathematics textbook he had open on his lap, he moved towards the table and from underneath a pile of books, discovered his laptop which he flipped open and turned on. Another two minutes- which felt like “forever”, and he was connected to the net.

Most of the search results for “how to earn money online” weren’t encouraging. For instance, one of them required him to spend two to three hours every day entering people’s names against their vehicle numbers- the kind of thing that should drive anyone with a head and a pair of lungs to breathe to commit suicide, according to Anuroop.

Another job was more reasonable- you have to correct spelling errors in passages, but it came from a website which looked like it was designed by someone who lost all his fingers in a terrible tragedy involving a sea-saw and a log of timber and so could only wield the mouse to apply his design skills with much difficulty.

If the passages were as bad as the design, he would have a bad time correcting them. More importantly, they asked for a signup fee.

In fact, most of the jobs that he sifted though asked for a signup fee. And even though his dad was all super-enthusiastic about him finding a way for earning extra-cash, Anuroop didn’t think that that enthusiasm would extend to helping him out with the signup cash.

Nonetheless, he wasn’t disheartened, for he had complete faith in the internet to save him from his predicament- no matter what it was. For wasn’t it the internet which helps him do his school assignments like a pro? And wasn’t it thanks to the resource-filled world wide web that he was the master of the trivia about Quantifido(He even knew that Luke Varta made a ‘guest appearance’ in a porn film long before he became the big action hero that he was now- a fact which was rarely mentioned in relation to the actor. He also knew that Kalaida Enterprises- the biggest film company in Quantifido was previously a factory that made war materials for Nazis during the Second World War: Quantifido was in alliance with Germany during the war.These kind of facts always earned him the accolades from his peers).

True to his hope, some half an hour since he started sifting through the long list of prospective online jobs, he hit upon something that was to his liking-all he had to do was spend an hour every day, at a time of his choosing, commenting on blogs and such. The best part? There was no signup fee.

No, that wasn’t quite the best part. The best part was that for an hour every day they were going to pay him around 100 rupees. Which is way more than what any of the others were willing to pay him.

Mother interrupted him with a call for lunch. But after lunch he was right back at the study table in his room, digging deeper into the prospective job he has found. Clicking on a couple of links eventually led him to a page that was practically a white space- design wise except for the two blue bands that ran vertically on either side. The number of words on the page were also limited. “Either the person who wrote the copy was in a rush or he was a Twitter nut!” Anuroop muttered under his breath.

Among the words were these: “If you sign up for the job, you will be expected to post a certain number of comments every day-following the guidelines which would be provided to you. And payments will be made to the account that you specify on a weekly basis.”

That was what finally and once and for all decided for Anuroop that he want to sign up for the job. If he can get paid by the week, he wouldn’t have to wait till the next month’s allowance to see a movie!

The sign-up process was easy enough- they asked just the essentials: name, country of residence, email. Not even the house address. But they did ask for the account details and Anuroop was only too happy to furnish them. It was just the previous summer that upon his dad’s urging, he opened an account. “A bank account is one of those things that bring a measure of discipline to one’s life,” his father had said at the time. Anuroop wasn’t sure what all things “one of those things” were comprised of.

Not that he cared.

He opened the account just to get his father out of his case than anything else. “And now, one year later it’s finally being of some use!” He giggled.

“Anuroop, did you say something?” his mom who was passing in front of his door at that moment peeped in. He looked at her somewhat surprised. He wasn’t aware that he has said anything aloud.

Once he told her that he was just singing some song, she left him after saying, “You shouldn’t be listening to all that violent music all the time!” to which Anuroop called out, “I don’t play violent video games, so I think in compensation, I get to listen to violent music!”

A smile persisted on his lips. He was just too happy about the fact that he has found his very first job-okay a part time job that probably wouldn’t support him for beyond a few days a month if he were an adult making his way through life on his own. But a job nonetheless.

**

Signing up for the job got him in touch with someone who goes by the name of “recruiter”- apparently, the person wasn’t all that creative when it came to names. The recruiter first sent Anuroop an email in the id that he had provided during the signup process. Anuroop received the email late in the night of the day of signup-he was watching the Quantifidon slasher movie, “Cutbone Andie, Part 6” on his laptop when he got the alert.

Pausing the movie- at the part where the serial killer known as Cutbone Andie was chasing a hapless young woman through the woods- a scene that looked like a recurring nightmare because it-or rather a variation of it appears in almost all the parts, Anuroop opened the mail.

After welcoming him and congratulating him for choosing the job, the “recruiter” said he would contact him further via Watsapp if that’s fine with him. Anuroop was to “reply to this mail” mentioning if Watsapp was a reasonable option for him or not.

Of course, he replied yes.

He was expecting the recruiter to contact the next day. So he was surprised to see the recruiter’s message pop up on watsapp just a few moments later- the girl on the screen hasn’t even got beyond the current stretch of the forest path.

The watsapping lasted just under 10 minutes but in that time, Anuroop was initiated into the nature of the job and also the guidelines.

The job was in the backdrop of the upcoming presidential election in Quantifido. The two candidates running for the presidency were Margret Choudon and Terrence Govanta. Now, Anuroop was being recruited so that he could drop comments on certain sites-comments that would be supportive of Govanta and detrimental to Choudon.

Dnt wry.chaudon faction  2 recruit people like u to w rk for them, the recruiter messaged.

If the message was meant to placate Anuroop’s conscience about being an ‘influencer’-however small in an election in which he didn’t have any right to be an influencer, that was totally unnecessary. For Anuroop-who didn’t even follow the politics of his own country- the closest he came was when he contemplated throwing Sonia Gandhi’s picture into a collage he put up in his room once(the collage was made of pictures of important Indian personalities and Gandhi’s was the only one he had of good resolution that wasn’t of an entertainer) it didn’t matter who he commented against or for as long as he got paid.

As for the guidelines, it could be summed up in a few words- do whatever you have  to make it look like Choudon is the spawn of the devil whereas Govanta- the CEO of a hotel empire that stretches across 8 countries was the next best thing to actually being in heaven.

No problem, thought Anuroop.

In the coming days he found a light sense of adrenaline rush at the thought of competing against the opposing faction- a digital war, so to speak. The enthusiasm was bolstered when, a week since he started the job, he got the first  pay(He had attended the party at Kishore’s just two days ago without any beer money. But he has promised his pals that he would pay back in a couple of days- a promise his chums took only half-seriously. “Well, now they will see!” he thought).

Meanwhile, across the seven oceans(actually just two- the Indian and the Pacific but it’s not all that cool to say “across the two oceans”), in Quantifido, Govanta was doing himself a lot of damage- at least, according to the media pundits.

First, he openly made some misogynistic remarks against his opponent- Choudon-a female candidate

The remark was made at an open podium live in front of a large number of people and the media. Then, after a few days he remarked- again in front of the media and the public that there was “no reason for black skinned people to be revered for losing their lives in battle.” The reference was to a young black Quantifidon soldier who fought and died in a recent battle with Lagdopa- Quantifido’s closest neighbor with whom the country had a long history of skirmish(Lagdopa once used to be part of Quantifido. And ever since the country gained independence, they have been trying to gain more foothold in the Quantifidon land- literally. A scenario that gave rise to the occasional battle and a perennially tense border). “The great land of Quantifido was built by white people. Which means the black lives matter lesser than white lives!” proclaimed Govanta on live television.

Anuroop, though he kept a cursory glance on the election proceedings nonetheless kept posting comments on places online which the “recruiter” pointed him to. Comments like “Chaudon is aiming at a military governance. Any fool could see that!”(this in reference to a ghost from Chaudon’s past- when she was involved in a surveillance operation in her position as the defense minister in a previous administration) and “We need progress for our people first, before we put others first!” (Refererring the pro-immigration stance of Choudon as opposed to Govanta’s opposition to the idea.)

**

“So, where did you get the money from?”

Anuroop and Saurav were hanging out at the park near to their school- they had to go to the school to get their project reports signed-without which they wouldn’t be able to attend the exams. They got it signed, but neither of them were too thrilled about the idea of going home just yet. So they were having a smoke-if you stayed behind the Gandhi statue in the park, none of the passers by would see you, so they’re safe even if one of their teachers were to pass by the park.

Anuroop had just handed Saurav 400 bucks- it was Saurav who pitched in for Anuroop’s beer money at the party. Saurav, unlike Anuroop was someone who didn’t have any qualms taking tuition for children in the neighbourhood.

“Oh, dad gave me some cash!” said Anuroop, waving a hand in the air as though it was no big deal.

Saurav looked at him skeptically. He stayed just four doors down from Anuroop and they often visited at each other’s homes. And Saurav has seen enough of Anuroop’s father to know that he wasn’t the type to just give money like that. He distinctly remembered one time when Anuroop asked him money for a tour(unofficial, with his friends),and his father consented to give him the money only if he produced all the relevant bills. The fact that Saurav was present at the time had painted Anuroop’s cheeks red.

The thing was, Anuroop’s father knew too much details about his son to be at ease of heart about giving him money-like how once a small paper-wrapped globule fell off his bag and he got it, and learned that it was chenga- a mild narcotic that was sold around various schools and colleges of Bangalore, or how the fight that Anuroop and some of his friends got into at a bar reached his ears.(The brawl was because of opposing viewpoints about a certain club football team that Anuroop’s father had never even heard of).

No, it was highly unlikely that his father would give him the money, thought Saurav though he let the matter go at that. All said and done, Anuroop was his friend and he didn’t wish to make his friend uncomfortable in any way.

“Shall we go then?” he said, after taking two last drags on the cigarette which he snubbed out under his shoe.

Anuroop nodded, not quite looking at his friend’s face.

He wasn’t really ashamed of having lied to Saurav. But he was surprised at the shame that surfaced when he thought about telling Saurav the truth about where he got the money from.

**

Anuroop didn’t know whether the heat was actually getting worse or was it just his imagination. Since he had started working for Govanta he has been following more and more of the news- first regarding just Quantifido and then about the whole world.(He now knows that the Indian president’s name is Pranab Mukherjee). And hardly a day goes by without him coming across one piece or another about global warming.

He dabbed at the back of his neck with his handkerchief that was already soaked. “Man, it’s high time that father got us an A/C!” He looked up at the ceiling fan which was going the fastest it could.

Shaking his head he turned his attention back to the laptop screen. A word document was kept open. He was in the process of typing, “Chaudon’s foreign relations would bring more jobs to other people than to ours” when he halted midway because of the sweat. “Man, I can’t believe it’s Bangalore I live in anymore!” He wondered if it’s global warming or just the fact that they were cutting all trees and bringing up buildings that was the reason behind the heat.

“Whatever!” he muttered and was about to type up the rest of his comment when he began to wonder if in the sentence he should use “foreigners” instead of “other people”, his fingers frozen in the air just above the keys on the keypad.

“Or maybe ‘aliens’?” he said, and smiled.

But before he could settle on an apt word or phrase, a small blurb opened on the far right corner of the laptop screen. The screen showed the time as 7:30 PM- meaning, it was daytime in Quantifido, time when the presidential candidates appeared in front of the voting public, making their- and the nation’s cause.

And in the case of Terrence Govanta, maybe even messing things up by saying the wrong things.

Which is exactly what he did- the reason why the white blurb with the thin red border opened on Anuroop’s laptop at this moment.

What he read in the blurb had Anuroop furrowing his bows. To learn more, he clicked on the provided link which took him to the relevant page on the news site (he had subscribed for any alerts about the presidential race). With the election day mere weeks away, the number of alerts has also gone up.

 

The news article spoke about Govanta’s latest tirade- this one directed at the homosexual community in the country. “ Ours is a country that is averse to perversion- and homosexuality is arguably the greatest act of perversion because it goes against the fundamental ethos of being a human-of being a man or a woman!”

This was perhaps the most articulate of statements which Govanta had ever made in his 5 month long campaign so far. But it was also the one that struck Anuroop deep.

His fingers hovered above the keyboard for a while more. Eventually, deciding that “other people” is as good as “aliens” or “foreigners” he finished his last comment of the night. But when he hit the comment button, the usual sense of satisfaction which he got after making a comment was totally missing.

**

That turned out to be the last day that Anuroop  worked for Govanta

He didn’t go to sleep with the decision that from the next day onwards, he would cease working for such a ridiculous human being. But he did have a restless sleep, and he woke up the next morning with both an erection and a headache. He took care of the erection by masturbating, fantasizing about Christiano Ronaldo in positions that you wouldn’t see him on a football field. As for the headache-he knew that the only way he could relieve it was to inform the ‘Recruiter’ that he was out of it.

**

Anuroop didn’t expect the ‘Recruiter’ to make a hue and cry about the fact that he was going to quit the job- after all, he was just a small fish. But neither did he expect him-assuming it’s a him, to take it so in his stride.

Some half an hour after Anuroop e-mailed him stating his wish to quit, he got an acknowledgement. “We are sorry to see you go. Wishing you all the best for your future endeavors,” said the cryptic message.

As ever any trace of this last communication too disappeared in a short while. Now, it was as though The Recruited had never gotten in touch with Anuroop, or vice versa.

There was no mention in the reply mail about the reason that Anuroop had cited either. Not that anything vague like “Due to personal reasons I won’t be able to spare time every evening” was something worth mentioning, but still…Anuroop let out a long sigh, thinking about the actual reason why he took the decision to quit the job-even though now that the election day was drawing nearer and they were paying extra for posting extra comments- good money too.

The actual reason was something that he would probably take to his grave, without anyone knowing about it-not even his parents for whom he was their sole child.

The fact that he was a homosexual was something that his father-someone with liberal views might be okay with. But his mother-for whom the entire universe is a confluence of Shiv-Parvathy: the primordial man and woman, such an idea would be laugh-worthy. And as for the nation, his sexual inclination was somehow ‘illegal.’

As with all the communication which he has had with the Recruiter, the e-mail acknowledgement too disappeared from his inbox a few minutes after he has opened and read it, making him think again of how efficient a mechanism the recruiter was caught in.

It was as though none of this ever happened.

**

Election day at Quantifido.

Down in India, it’s just another day. Millions are hungry, and know they are going to stay hungry for a long while to come. Some are busy taking a bath in black money, wallowing in it, so to speak while some are just going through the business of somehow making it through another day.

For Anuroop it’s the day after the term exams finally got over(there were days when he actually thought that the exams would never be over. Never ever.).And damn if he were to stay in, especially when a new Quantifidon movie has hit the Indian shores.

But that’s not to say that he had forgotten the fact that it was election day at Quantifido. Far from it.

On the way to the theatre, he kept checking his smartphone every five minutes or so to keep himself updated about the results. The polls had all said that Chaudon was sure to win. How could someone like Terrence Govanta- a misogynist who shows little respect for democracy win?

The very idea sounded preposterous.

But still, Anuroop felt nervous checking the updates. And he knew that until he sees the final result he won’t be truly at peace. Each constituency that Govanta won felt like a dagger plunged into his heart.

And oddly enough, he seems to be winning more.

When Anuroop had left his home for the theatres, he had checked to see that Govanta was trailing Chaudon by more than 80 seats. But now, as the bus was nearing Cox Hall- the movie was playing at the Rex theatre in Brigade Road, Anuroop checked his phone to see that Govanta was bridging the gap with admirable rapidity. Another half an hour and it was Govanta who was leading.

By this time Saurav-who had to go somewhere else before, had arrived. Since they had about an hour more beforethe movie began, the two friends enjoyed some chicken momos from a nearby Tibetan restaurant.

Even then, Anuroop kept looking at his smartphone screen. “What are you looking at?” said Saurav.

When Anuroop told him, he just shrugged and sipped the Pepsi he had ordered. As far as Saurav was concerned, Quantifido’s politics was as relevant to him as the storms that might currently be ravaging the face of Mars.

By the time the movie began, news was out that Govanta had won by a large margin. All the pundits who predicted otherwise be damned.

Anuroop tried to focus on the movie- which told the story about a Quantifidon troop which won a strategic battle for the country during the last war with their neighbor, Ledropa. But his mind kept drifting to the idea that in some way he had also contributed to the victory of Govanta.

That’s stupid- you just posted a few comments in some blogs! He tried to placate himself but still was unable to shake the feeling that he did the wrong thing.

The sound of the soldiers shooting at their opponents was matched by the sound of Saurav munching on some snacks next seat. He kept offering Anuroop some at frequent interval though he kept saying no.

Perhaps, Saurav sensed that his friend was not feeling up to the mark and was trying to cheer him up with a spicy samosa.

Anuroop felt even worse when a soldier on screen looked directly at him and said, “Hey, you! Yes, you!”

Anuroop looked to his left(empty seats) and right(Saurav, his rapt attention on the screen, a hand holding a samosa in front of his open mouth). He didn’t have any other option but to concede that the Quantifidan soldier was talking to him and him alone. Though the theatre was half empty, whatever audience there were were attentive of the actions on screen and nothing else. And the movie had plenty of actions to keep the audience on the edge of their seats- right now, a regiment was about to storm a small hillock where the enemy had taken possession.

But this one soldier- a man who looked to be in his early twenties, with a long forehead and a thick moustache beneath his broad nose didn’t seem to be interested in what his fellow-soldiers were up to. And the bullets that streaked through the air behind him like balls of fire may well have been fireflies for all the attention that he gave them.

Shrouded in unreality though this was, Anuroop sat up in the seat in spite of himself-the soldier was disregarding his own safety for the sake of talking to him, so the message ought to be serious.

And so he listened. Closely.

“You thought you could get away with it, didn’t you?” the soldier’s voice was hoarse and high pitched. He was just a minor character in the movie who appeared in very limited number of scenes and barely a line of dialogue, so Anuroop didn’t know if this was the character’s natural voice or not.

“But that is not how it works! Oh, that’s so not how it works!” The soldier spoke rapidly, in English which was the official language of Quantifido. Quantifidon English blurred the edges of the words, so a word like “works” would sound more like ‘worssss…” And they spoke way faster than how Indians speak English(and of course, they never used such familiar phrases like “like that only.”).

The Quantifidon soldier who was talking to Anuroop was no exception in terms of speech- rapid and blurring around the edges. But Anuroop didn’t have any issues following him-after all, he watches on average 3 Quantifidon movies every week- something that was a habit for years.

What he did find incredible was the content of the soldier’s words.

“Now, our leader has ascended- the victory at Quantifido is only the beginning for the Dark One. Many cultures have prophesied the rise of the Dark One- but no one has taken it seriously. Well, now they would. And those who opposed him would of course be the first to suffer- the artists who sung songs against him, and the politicians-some among his own party who did their best to prevent the One’s ascension, and many more. They will all suffer!

“The future belongs to the ones who worship the Dark- for whom chaos and unreason are gods. The rest of you- the ones who consider conscience to be the essential fabric of being- the fools that you are, will perish.”

Halting in his monologues, the soldier smiled, gazing upwards at a sky that was filled with smoke and dust that rose from the bombs that exploded below. It looked almost as if he was communing with some god hidden in the thick smoke.

When he spoke again, it was in the calmest of tones- in complete contrast to all the chaos of battle that raged around him. The deliberation with which he now spoke sent shivers of fear down Anuroop’s spine.

“Not even the least of those who opposed, or betrayed him would go free!” proclaimed the soldier, who now raised his machine gun. He pointed the nozzle at Anuroop . His heartbeat went up a few notches at the sight of the barrel which yawned in front of him like a dark abyss (as though the movie was in 3D, which it wasn’t.).

He wasn’t sure of the exact make of the gun which was being pointed at him, but he was fairly sure that he had seen the model in plenty of Quantifidon movies before(carrying guns was legal in Quantifido, so the weapon gets featured quite frequently in their movies. Sometimes there were more weapons than people in their movies). And in the movies at least, whenever someone got shot with a weapon of this kind, they got blown to pieces.

Anuroop swallowed. He gripped hard on the arm rest of his seat. ‘A white-knuckle ride’, the review for the movie had promised, and now he was getting it.

He tried to call out, or at least make some noise to catch Saurav’s attention, not that he knew what his very mortal friend could do against such immortal enemies. Anyway, it didn’t matter-for no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make a sound- not even a whisper. The lump in his throat was like coal stuck in his vocal chord.

The soldier, who now looked at him out of one eye, twisted his lips in a lopsided grin. “Say your prayers. Betrayer! You ran away from the battle-field!”

The bullets racked Anuroop’s body.

It was only when the lights came on during the intermission that Saurav saw how odd Anuroop sat in his seat. His eyes were still fixed on the screen but his back was pressed against the seat rest, as though someone pushed him against it, and his head lay against his shoulder at a tilted angle, and Saurav could also see a trace of pink between the rows of teeth- the tip of his tongue.

And it was only when he noticed that his friend wasn’t blinking at all that he realized something must be wrong.

“A sudden cardiac arrest” was the conclusion which the doctors who examined him at the hospital came to.

“Probably brought on by all the violence on screen!,” one of the doctors- a 50 year old man whose youngest was Anuroop’s age and whose film watching habits he disapproved of, muttered to his colleagues.

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