Notes play in a dream like melodies flung out of a piano in the ethers. The sound vibrations originated from a place where not many could access- not if they wished to remain sane. And inside Ronny’s brain the notations took on shapes- spherical, conical, shapes that were hard to define and shapes which were downright funny- resembling clown’s nose or a blurred cartwheel.
What were these shapes and what did they signify?, this Ronny Sohran didn’t know. Not that he was thinking about it consciously- sleep prevented him from even the feeblest of conscious thoughts. But then, deep beneath the surface layer of his conscious mind, the mechanism of thoughts was in motion, a bazillion spokes and wheels of the psyche chugging, whirling, moving in synchronized patterns, the result of which was the generation of one idea, a concept, clear though it was, still held enough mystery at its core for Ronny’s subconscious to frown in bafflement.
The shapes meant, ‘Bring the dead alive!’
No, it didn’t make much sense to Ronny. He frowned in his sleep. He sweated. He whimpered but no one heard.
Silverston Berchmans looked at his reflection and tried for the nth time to comb his hair in such a manner that the fast balding front portion wouldn’t be too visible. And like with all the previous attempts, he failed this time too- the bald patches showing through the greying hairs like the sky through the canopies of a drying tree.
“Better get going,” he told himself as he kept the comb back in its place in the small tray attached to the mirror. He was very meticulous that way- strict about having everything in its right place. But the way he saw it, everything was so not in its right place in his life.
At 44 years of age, he was still living in a rented apartment and didn’t know how he was going to manage when his two kids reached college. There was at least a decade before that eventuality comes along but as he has learned in his existence so far, a decade could move so fast that it could leave you breathless.
“Better get going,” he said again, but still didn’t move. He remained in front of the mirror, peering at his image with a scrutiny fit for a painter apprehending his latest creation. And indeed, Silverston was thinking of aesthetic matters. He wanted to look good. The resort they were going to, and the beach were places visited by people who lived in a better strata of society, people for whom, unlike him, looking good would be simply a matter of putting on their latest clothes after a visit to the salon.
The latest clothes he brought for himself was from more than an year back. It still looked okay, but it took work to make it look more than just okay.
He hadn’t noticed Ashley come to his side, not until she pulled at the side of his pants leg. She was all dressed to go, in a little pink frock, complete with a pink bow on her head and a black dot which her mother had put on her cheek to cast off the evil eye.
“Why, sweetheart, are you ready to go?” he said, picking up the child, who immediately began to suck her thumb. “Haven’t I said you shouldn’t suck your thumb anymore, sweetheart? You are four years old – you’re a big, big, big girl now!” said Silverston. He gently pried the finger from her mouth but no sooner had he taken his hand off hers than the thumb was back in her mouth. She grinned at him- a grin which left her dad defenseless.
“Are you ready?” the question came from his wife, who came to the door. She too was dressed to go. Beside her stood Anderson, elder to Ashley by two years but already a world ahead of her in terms of awareness about what goes around him- sometimes Silverston thinks that the kid browses the internet too much for his own good. After all, he’s just 6 years old, what could there be for a 6 year old to browse so much?, he sometimes wondered.
“Yes, I am ready,” said Silverston to his wife. “Have you packed all the bags?” he added, intending the question as a jab- for he knew very well how she must have over-packed; even though they were going away for just three days, she would pack enough for herself and the kids to last them at least 10 days in the wilderness.
His wife winced mockingly.
Sitting in the car, Silverston experienced the same sense of guilt which has been making the occasional appearance in his mind ever since the family won the three day vacation. It was Anderson, his son who saw the small sticker sized coupon inside the biscuit wrapper. He brought the coupon to his father and asked him what it was.
“You can fill it up and send it to the biscuit makers. If you are lucky, they would give you a free vacation.”
The boy’s eyes lit up. But then, a look of concern came over his face. “But if I win, how would I go alone? I would be scared to go alone- even if it’s for a vacation!”
Silverston laughed, told him that the vacation would be for the entire family. The boy’s face lit up again. He asked his father to fill the coupon for him. Nobody expected to win. Indeed, Silverton forgot all about the coupon almost as soon as he posted it- the only thing worth remembering about the whole endeavor, as far as he was concerned, was that it was the first time in so long that he actually sent a mail the old fashioned way. He wondered why the company didn’t use email as a medium for their contest.
When the news came that they had won the vacation, Silverston ascribed it to the fact that only very few people must have taken the pain to go out and buy an envelope and then go to the post office and go through the motions of buying a stamp and then pasting it on the envelope before pushing the envelope through the flap of a post box. The process involved just a few steps, but the number of steps were still one too many in the age of internet.
Apart from the realization also came the feeling of guilt. This was the first vacation that he was taking his family on since the birth of Ashley. For the first two years, the excuse which he gave himself, and which was quite valid in its own way, was that it would be hard to travel with so little a baby. And after the first two years, they- he and his wife, stopped talking about the concept of a vacation altogether.
It was around that time that Silverston quit being a musician altogether and began focusing full time on the garment business- he imported clothes from Gujarat at cheap prices which he then sold to whole sale shops in both his home town, Trivandrum and also some of the shops in Kochi. The turn from being a musician to a garment merchant happened purely out of chance. By a series of coincidences, he met someone who was willing to loan him some money to do it- to be one of the many arms in the man’s garment business.
The business still hasn’t picked up as much as he wished it would. For one thing, there was just too much competition in the field. Another problem was that this kind of business took time to take root and grow beyond a certain limit- unfortunately, in his 40s, time wasn’t something Silverston felt was on his side.
Such thoughts kept coming to his mind as he sat in the hired car filled with the sound of his children’s laughter. The kids were playing a game of rock, paper, scissors. Anderson kept laughing at how slow his sister was in making the hand gestures. Seeing his brother laugh, Ashley would follow suit.
The sound of their laughter has a certain music to it, thought Silverston. It could lead to a chorus singing a tilting tune, he caught himself thinking before recalling that he was no more a professional musician. Sure, he still played the guitar with a couple of ganamela troops for some extra cash- but the tunes that he played were all composed by other people, some of them he thought to be far lesser in talent than himself.
But then, talent is only half of what lands you a good deal in the entertainment industry, he thought. Or maybe not even half.
“What are you thinking?”
His reverie was broken by the sound of his wife’s voice.
“Nothing,” he told her. “Just wondering if the resort would be as good as they say in the website.”
The resort was, if anything, better than how it was mentioned in the website.
Silverton assumed that the person who owned the place, an ex-abkari turned educational institution owner, was a huge fan of Steve Jobs- for the entire place had the colour white for its base. All the walls were painted white, all the paintings on the walls- and there were many- were framed in white. All the pieces of furniture- from the Daliesque tea poe at the lounge to the dressing table in the room were white in colour. The complementary soap, body lotion, the plate in which the food was brought by home service, the uniform of the employees-everyone from the manager to the receptionist to the man who cleared the pool, the poodle which was the mascot and also the “good luck charm of the hotel” as explained by the manager, the light fixtures, the hotel-owned cars which were used to transport the guests, the telephones, the bar, the utensils in the gym, the water tumblers that were kept in all the floors so that guests never went thirsty- everything had white as the predominant, if not the sole colour.
Indeed, there were moments during his stay in the resort when Silverston felt like he had died and gone to heaven.
But it was the private beach that the resort overlooked which he felt was truly paradisiacal- the pristine white sand, the ocean a calm overgrown oasis and the sky an azure which he could have sworn was photo-shopped into perfection.(Maybe god touches up his creations to make them look better at times!, he joked to Anderson, who laughed only because he was supposed to, not because he got the joke).
And it was while the family was at the beach- Silverston and his wife stretched out on deck chairs as the two kids sat at their feet, building a sand castle that Ashley said how the song from the radio sounded a lot like “one of papa’s!”
Silverston was in half-sleep when Ashley said that.
What brought him instantly(and completely) awake was, more than the words, the tone she used. Indeed, the way she said it- “like one of papa’s!” she could have been referring to a child.
At first, that’s what Silverston thought- that she has seen some child on the beach whose face resembled his own.(In which case, fate would have delivered an unwanted complication to fracture the relationship between him and his wife- just about the only thing which kept him sane through these tough times).
But then, rising his head and looking at his daughter, he saw that she was pointing at his mobile phone on the deck chair.
Silverston had tuned into a radio station before slipping into a quasi-sleep. Coming out of it, he looked at the cell phone, a somewhat dumb expression on his face- he still couldn’t decipher what Ashley was getting excited about.
The girl had asked for a phone of her own multiple times before. Silverstion has told her that she was too young for a phone- an answer which kept her calm only so much. Has some sudden impulse come over her now which made her yearn for a phone right now? Maybe the liberation of being on a holiday had put fanciful thoughts in her mind?
But no, he saw that the child wasn’t asking for the phone. The child was asking him to give it his attention, asking him to listen closely to the song which was being played.
So he listened. What was it, some jingle about a contest that would win you another holiday? No, it didn’t sound like a jingle- for one thing, it was too mournful, the tune carried an almost haunting quality. Also, it went on longer than an average jingle, at least by half a minute more before it got over.
In the last minute or so of the song which Silverston listened to, he caught two short passages which made him think that there was something to what his daughter was saying- the song sounded like “one of papas.”
In the next two days of the vacation, half of Silverston’s mind was always lost in thoughts about the song he heard on the radio, and its apparent resemblance with one of his own compositions. But for the life of him he couldn’t recall which of his songs it resembled, and if it did, by how much.
In his career as a musician that lasted some fifteen years, Silverston has composed music for low budget short animation films for children the kind of which only ever got a CD release and never got aired in the television or the theaters, cheaply produced devotional albums- Christian, Hindu or Muslim, he didn’t mind, a bazillion jingles for products ranging from ball pens for students to women’s lubricant and exactly one feature film which never saw the light of day as the producer backed out before the film itself could be finished. And then, there were all the serials he composed for more than he could count, or recall, when the mega serial craze was at its height in Kerala during the early years of the 21st century. More than anything, it was composing for the serials that irked him the most, because the brief that he got for particular scenes were always the same and expressed in one word- “tense,” “weepy,” or “Romantic.” As though he were a dog that was being given commands like “Fetch” and “Sit.”
Not that he ever complained. God only knew there were many times when he had felt like shouting at the serial makers to “be a little more professional than a worm!” But the fact that he needed the money prevented him from saying what was on his mind. The overwhelming number of works aside, the amount of money that he made from a project was only marginal. That was the curse of the musician working in Kerala- unless you broke into the film industry and made it big there- which takes some doing, you would always be struggling.
Silverston struggled to recall the song of his making, without success. He thought about it while he took a boat ride on the sea with his family, he thought about it while having the special buffet at the resort’s hotel, the same thought held his mind as he lied asleep in the night, the coolness of the air conditioned room in the resort doing very little to alleviate the heat of frustration that the failure to recall borne in him.
As for the song which he heard on the radio, it was easy enough to find. The RJ had announced the name of the song soon after it was over- “from the latest Pritviraj starrer, Spandanam!’she had said. Anderson downloaded the song off Youtube and saved it in his father’s phone. “Here dad, you can listen to the song any time you want to!” he had said, beaming a smile at him, proud about his own accomplishment. Soon, he added, “Will you buy me another one of those kulfis?” pointing to the ice cream stand near the beach.
Silverston did listen to the song multiple times while vacationing, in the hope that it would help him recall the song he has forgotten. By the time they were ready to leave on the third day, the memory still found elusive.
It must be a jingle, he thought. Otherwise, I could have remembered!
He wasn’t willing to entertain other ideas such as the possibility that his memory was getting weaker now that he was in the wrong side of the 40s. Or maybe the song’s resemblance was not a reality- maybe there were just passing resemblances between two short passages that lasted seconds- just as the opening lines of AR Rahman’s ‘Varayon Thozhi’ had a vague resemblance to the first verses of RD Burman’s ‘O mere sona re..’ One couldn’t really say the notations were the exact same.
They had left the resort late in the evening and by the time they reached home, it was already past eleven in the night. Ashley was asleep and Silverston had to carry her in to the house while Anderson ambled his shuffling feet down the corridor that led from the living room to the bed room like the walking dead, just one step away from finding oblivion himself.
“Are you not coming to bed?” Silverton’s wife asked, seeing him going to the next room. She had changed and now lied beside the children on the bed, ready to wash away the agreeable lethargy of a holiday by immersing into a sleep in one’s own bed, in one’s own home- albeit a rented home.
Silverston too had changed but instead of coming to bed, he was now walking towards the door.
“No, you go to sleep. I will be another fifteen minutes,” he said.
His wife nodded. Without asking, she knew that he was going to try and find out the song.
There were two bedrooms in the house, which was just above a thousand square meters in dimension. The other bedroom was mostly used by the kids-some nights they slept with the parents. But the fact that the kids rarely studied without being helped by their mother or father meant that most of the studying took place in the living room where the long sofa afforded enough space for the teacher and the students to comfortably be seated- and in Ashley’s case, almost always lie down. (She said, lying down, it helped the lessons to move to her brain since it’s easier for the lessons to move in a horizontal manner than fight its way up towards her brain- that’s how Silverston knew that she was going to be a stand up comic or a scientist who specialized in gravity).
Aside from the table on which the children’s school books were kept, there was very little furniture in the room. But there were a few instruments that Silverston had acquired during the course of his profession- the rudravina which was actually a gift from a friend, the Korg keyboard which was the first ever instrument that he brought with his own money and a Fender which he still played sometimes- strumming on the guitar some melancholy tune on nights when the pressure of living got too much to handle, nights when he would down a drink or two and sing at the moon.
And there was also the computer.
It was to the computer that Silverston went first, after entering and turning on the light in the room. Ever since he quitted professional music completely, he could never enter this room without feeling a sense of guilt-as though he had left himself down, or a sense of longing- for the days when he spent almost the entire time here, his mind lost in the endless cosmos which musical combinations could bring, his heart set aflutter in a motion that could be described only as sublime.
Yes, he felt such strong sensations even while composing for some shitty mega serial in which the height of emotional integrity that any of the characters felt- and which he had to translate into music, was hatred for the daughter-in-law for accidentally killing the house cat.
The guilt and the longing accompanied him this night as well when he entered the room. The sight of the blue walls- the room was specially painted in that colour because blue soothed the nerves and was conducive for creative pursuits- made the longing even stronger.
But more than such tender feelings was curiosity. He needed to find that song. For one thing, he couldn’t conceive of anyone to copy a tune of his. Not that he considered himself a poor composer- he knew he was no AR Rahman, his favourite composer and practically his god(he still had the man’s picture on the wall along side Ravindran’s) but he couldn’t think of who would be listening to his old songs and “getting inspired” by them.
Then, there was also the matter of money. The songs for Prithviraj’s Spandanam was composed by Rony Sohren- one of the heavy weight composers in the Malayalam film industry. Multiple winner of the state award and one time winner of the national award. He even has a couple of Bollywood films to his name, and those too were successful music-wise, a feat which only very few Malayalam musicians could claim.
Silverston wasn’t too sure about the technicalities but he figured that if there was a matter of plagiarism, he could sue both the music director and the producer of the movie. The music director being someone so famous, he might not even want the matter to reach the court or the public space, so that his reputation can be preserved. In any case, there would be a good amount of money involved, if he played it right.
But before that, he needed to find out for sure that there was plagiarism involved. To this end, he turned on the computer and went straight to the drive where he has stored his compositions. The folder was named- unimaginatively enough, ‘own-compo’(for a creative person he could be so not creative at times). He clicked it open. Discarding the songs which he still knew the tunes of, he began to click open one after the other- he was sure that he could identify the song by the opening bars.
The computer was formatted last year-a viral attack brought on the blue screen once. The formatting meant that he lost most of the data in the hard drive.
Once he was done listening to the very last of his songs in the computer, he was sure that the track that he was looking for was lost in formatting.
Checking the computer’s clock he was surprised to see that it was already two in the morning.
Though vacationing is supposed to be relaxing, after the three days, he felt anything but- that was the price one paid for vacationing with one’s children. And if it’s at a beach where there are plenty of places for them to run- and for you to chase them, then that’s even worse.
Through the open door of the room, he could see a part of the bedroom opposite. Though the bed there was lost in darkness, he could very well imagine the comfort of lying his head on the pillow, the soft padding of the mattress as he lied his weary body down.
But he also knew that no matter how weary he was, he wouldn’t be able to sleep unless he resolved the matter of the plagiarism.
There were a few CDs in one of the closets- those contained only the songs which were the closest to his heart- jingles, devotionals, a couple of film songs and even a few tunes from the serials. He found it hard to imagine that he would forget a tune that he had once thought so close to his heart, but stranger things happen in this world- especially when the passage of time is involved.
The CDs he was looking for, he found in a black plastic bag, neatly tied up and tucked away at one corner of a closet. As he reached for the bag, he felt a sense of premonition- he felt as though something profound was about to happen.
He hoped that the profound thing was him coming into some good money- the children’s education certainly could use it.
Silverston Berchmans found the track he was looking for at precisely three thirty in the morning. Everything was still and silent, except for the song in the headset.
The song was composed for a serial more than a decade ago. He had saved the track in the CD, naming it with the serial’s title and the year of release: 2002. As he listened to the song, he remembered more about its composition, and the way it ended up in his CD collection.
The song was actually a romantic song- or rather a song of longing. In his version, it’s a woman singing – the female character , the serial’s lead has just discovered that her lover was killed in an accident. And she was in mourning. As he listened to the song, Silverston recalled how one fine day the producer called him saying that he had fallen out with the lead actor who quit the show. In his absence, they were changing the storyline. “That pubic hair would be killed in our serial. And the death won’t even be shown. We would introduce another actor in the next episode…But for now, we need a song of mourning- and I want it ready in the next four days!” Before Silverston could protest, the producer-who was also the director of the 13 episoder added, “I will pay you extra for this effort!”
More magical a set of words was rarely spoken, as far as Silverston was concerned.
Usually, when underpaid music composers of television serials were asked to come up with a tune in so few days(such things happen more frequently than you may think) the end result almost always is a song that’s “inspired” by some other song. Most of the times, the latter would be a popular movie song from the 80s or the 70s. The music directors tend to use songs from the earlier decades as sources of their “inspiration” because those songs have already brought in their makers a whole load of money and so they are not as bound to sue anyone for plagiarism as the makers of current music-who haven’t capitalized yet.
This instance, however was one in which the norm was inverted- whereas it was usual for serial music composers to lift their tunes from film songs, for it to happen the other way around was practically unheard of.
Though he did feel a slight tingle of anger at someone using his work without his permission, Silverston also felt more than a tingle of pride at the fact that someone had found his work good enough to copy from. It pleased him even more that that someone was Ronny Sohren- a composer whom he admired(Ronny was one of the few who actually knew the intricacies of Karnatic music enough to adapt them successfully to modern tunes without making it sound like fusion music).
Despite the oddity of the hour, once he found the song, the fatigue of the vacation lifted off him. In fact, he felt positively invigorated. Soon as he ascertained that the resemblance between the two songs was real and not envisioned, the first thing he felt like doing was to rush into the bedroom and wake up his wife and kids and shout at the top of his lungs that he had found the track! And Ashley? Why, he would pick her up and plant on her small forehead and chubby cheeks enough kisses to give her a lasting tingle. After all, if it wasn’t for her, he probably wouldn’t have identified the resemblances between the songs.
And once I get the compensation, I would buy her a phone, he thought. Never mind that she is too young. If she is old enough to tip me off to a possibility of making money, she is old enough to use a phone! Hell, I will buy her the latest iPhone, nothing less!
Though he wanted very much to share the joy of discovering the song with his family right then- at least with his wife, he resisted the urge, knowing full well that they weren’t nearly rested enough to be feeling well rested.
Instead, sitting alone in the room, the headset clamped over his skull, he listened to Ronny’s composition over and over again. In the film version, the song was rendered by a male vocalist, and sounded more haunting than the original version- in fact, there were ghostly sounds liberally interspersed throughout the song, what sounded like whales crying from deep in the ocean and shallow breaths rising from within a mist.
He googled and found that the song was indeed for a horror film- a period ghost film, about a dead king whose ghost has wandered to another kingdom to exact revenge upon a rival king. The song apparently was sung by the ghost of the dead king. He watched the music video on Youtube. It showed Prithviraj in a king’s attire, only he appeared hazy, as though he was made of coloured smoke and not flesh and bones. The special effects look sloppy, thought Silverston. Even before the video was halfway through, he closed the tab.
He wouldn’t have been interested in the video even if the effects were good. For all his attention was on the song. More precisely, the first few bars of the pallavi-which was unmistakably lifted from his composition. If he wanted to, he could have run the two tracks in a software and seen if the notes for those passages matched. But he didn’t need to.
Silverston felt sure that some money was a-coming his way. And notwithstanding the stuffy feel of the room the windows and door of which had remained shut for three days straight, he felt like he was breathing easy.
For the first time in a long long time.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
When the lawyer- a bespectacled gentleman with curly hair and a pointed beard which gave him the appearance of a goat asked the question, the first thing that occurred to Silverston was, Are you for real?
But when the lawyer went on to explain that it may be prudent to approach the music director or the producer of the film before filing a case in the court, giving them a chance to come to a financial agreement without having to go through the charades of a court case- which could end up in time-loss for both the parties, Silverston realized that there was indeed more to the lawyer than met the eye.
The lawyer was recommended by one of his friends in the film industry. “This guy knows the legal aspects of the entertainment business like the crows knows how to caw” was how his friend put it. And indeed, judging by how he was adept enough to recommend to settle without going to the courts- Silverston now felt his friend was right. He has had enough experience with lawyers- once for a land border case which he got involved on his in-law’s behalf, and on another occasion, an alimony case for his own brother, he knew well enough that the smartest lawyers always tried to keep things as less involved with the courts as possible.
Silverston suggested that, if it’s alright, they should contact the music director before the producer. Being a musician himself, Silverston knew that preserving personal reputation would be a good enough reason for Ronny Sohran to solve the matter without embroiling the law in it- at least not too much.
“Okay, let me trace out who Sohran’s lawyer is. I will give him a call today itself,” the goat like lawyer said with a goat like smile.
Walking out of the lawyer’s plush office in a plush locality(the fee was high for the lawyer but Silverston agreed, thinking how he should get the best and not screw up his golden opportunity) Silverston felt an almost uncontrollable urge to laugh. It was all he could do to keep a straight face as he hailed an autoriskshaw and gave the driver the destination. The happiness inside him bubbled like a soda kept under pressure. He didn’t want to let it out, at least not yet- thinking superstitiously that a premature laughter would end matters in tears.
Silverston has just come back from collecting money from a couple of stores where he delivered clothes when he got the call. The biggest problem with running the garment distribution business was collecting the money from his clients- they would sometimes kept asking for time as though everyone has already been assured a place in eternity.
He was in a bad mood, having had to get into an argument with one of his clients who gave him 20% lesser the amount than they said, asking him for some more time to pay the rest of the money, asking time for the fourth and, as far as Silverston was concerned, the last time.
But soon as he attended the call, or rather as soon as he realized who it was he was speaking to, all thoughts about the recently concluded argument and the associated stress fell off him like dried leaves from a tree in summer.
“Hello, is this Silverston Berchamns, I am talking to?” When Silverston said yes, the voice said, “This is Rony Sohren.” And when Silverston remained silence, the voice added, “You know, the music director Rony Sohren?..”
“Yes, of course, I know who you are,” said Silbverston, blinking. “It’s just that I wasn’t expecting a call from you. I am a fan of your works,” he added, and regretted it immediately, wondering if by saying that, he bestowed on the man greater power in the power equation- after all, for fans, the creator is always a demigod.
But there was no inflection in Rony’s voice when he spoke again to suggest that he felt in any way superior to Silverston. Indeed, the voice continued in its soft vein, somewhat monotonous but still devoid of all pretensions. “Why, thank you, Silverston,” he said. “And I am also a fan of your works. Which is why I got fixated on that particular song of yours…Which brings us to the present business, I,” he added.
He said that his lawyer called him earlier in the day. “I was, to be honest expecting such a call. In fact, I was wondering why it took so long- after all, the song has been out for almost two months now..” said Ronny.
He told him, in his soft voice about how he too would like to have the matter settled without having to go to the court. His reputation was one reason, but also, there was the matter of guilt, he said. “It was only after the song was finished and the rights handed to the producer that I realized that certain portions did have semblance with your song to warrant the term plagiarism,” he said. A line which Silverston thought spelled bullshit.
But it was what Ronny said next that had truly astonished him. “If it’s not too much trouble, I would like you to come over to my place. Not for an official meeting or anything,” he hastily added, “But to meet you in person and so that I can offer you my sincerest of apologies. Of course, I could come and meet you at your place, if that’s convenient for you, but I would really like it if you can come down here, so that..you know, I can offer you my hospitality as part of my apology.” He added this last part almost sounding shy.
As I should be, if I were in his place, thought Silverston.
Before Silverston could say anything though, Ronny continued, “My lawyer told me how you came to notice my song- that your daughter was the one who noted the resemblance first, when you were at the beach.” He laughed good-naturedly. “That’s one good story if ever there was one. I would like to meet this sweet young girl if it’s possible. She obviously has a good ear for music- takes after her father, I suppose?”
Though they were technically on opposing side of things- the suer and the sued if matters ended up in the courts, Silverston couldn’t help but feel flattered. Of the two children, he too thought that Ashley was the one with musical gifts- already, you could tell by the way she hummed tunes, mimicking the jingles she saw on the television. Silverston was hoping to have someone give her vocal training starting next year, provided there would be enough funds.
And if this deal comes through, there would be more than enough funds, he thought.
“So, would you bring her along?”
Silverston’s mini-reverie was broken by the question.
“Yes,” he said, without even thinking.
It was only after he got off the phone that he realized how odd it was that Ronny Sohren invited just him and his daughter instead of his entire family.
There was a silver plated name board on the wall which simply said “Sohren” beneath which was given the house number. Most or all of the nearby bungalows had a security guard at the gate- usually a bored looking Nepalese young man in a chair, sitting staring into space.
But there was no one Silverston could see in front of Ronny’s place. Stepping out of the autorikshaw with little Ashley by his side, he did notice a small security hut inside the compound, towards the left of the gate. But when he called out, no one came out.
Indeed, as he peered, he saw that the door to the hut was padlocked. He also saw that that was not the case with the gate.
Seeing no board warning them of dogs- Ashley easily got scared of dogs, ghhe cautiously pushed the gate open. A short pavement made of red inter-locked tiles ran up the bungalow. The father and the daughter covered the short distance in about five seconds.
Pressing on the calling bell switch, the cuckoo began to cry- the practically universal sound of the calling bell. Silverston felt disappointed. He had expected something more special- a portion of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, perhaps?, given how Sohren was a practicing musician with a huge fan base and enough money to own a plush bungalow like this.
The marble floor glinted like an ornament in its own right. Silverston saw an abstract fresco on the roof to floor glass which lined one entire half of the wall beside the front window. It showed a woman bearing a pot- at least, he thought that’s what it was. He assumed that it would take six months of his earnings to commission something like that.
He was almost startled by the voice coming from the man who came out of the open door. Turning his attention from the painted woman to the flesh and blood man, Silverston saw that the latter was a dark skinned and curly haired with a pockmarked face who, despite his age(36, according to his IMDB entry) looked at least 10 years older. But at over six feet height and well ripped body the contours of which showed through his turtleneck tee, he was definitely not mellow.
Looking Silverston up and down, he said, “Oh, I expected you to be much younger! I mean, I believed that the composer of that beautiful song has to be a young person- so much romance in it!”
“And yet, you used it for a ghost song!” said Silverston immediately.
The humour seemed to have been lost on Ronny since he simply said, “Yes, yes, that I did,” nodding with his lips pressed against each other, looking apologetic.
Feeling lightly guilty about making him feel apologetic, Silverston said “Anyway, you guessed right. I was much younger when I composed that song. More than 10 years younger.”
Ronny nodded reflectively. “Yes, yes, the passage of the years takes the romance right out of life, doesn’t it?,” he said. Looking at Ashley, he added, “Why, this must be our musical prodigy! So cute! What’s your name, sweetheart?” He bent and moved closer to her, only to have her hide behind her father’s leg.
Chuckling softly, Silverston said, “Her name is Ashley. She is very shy. It takes her a long time to befriend a stranger.”
“Is that so?” said Ronny, looking at Ashley who peered out from behind her father’s leg, thumb stuck in her mouth. “I bet that when uncle gives you the present he has got for you, we could become quick friends,” Ronny added. “Oh, what am I doing? Please, come on it, both of you, to my humble abode!”
Entering the living room the roof of which was high enough to befit that of a cathedral, Silverston thought that Ronny evidently had a different definition of the word “humble” to his. But he did find it odd when Ronny said he would go bring them juice from the kitchen. Surely, such a big household wasn’t devoid of its servants. Something about what he saw outside came to Silverton’s mind then- there was a small garden to one side of the red gridlocked pavement in the frontyard- most of the flowers had withered and the trees were dead, just a few of them standing as though defying the concept of an end.
The garden had died because there was no one to tend to it.
And when the two glasses of orange juice came, it was the man of the house himself who brought it.
No servants, then, thought Silverston.
Hardly had be brought them the juice than he went back in again. But when he returned, he held in his hand the present for Ashley which he mentioned before. A panda doll, almost a quarter of his size. Even from a distance, Silverston could see that it was a fluffy piece of engineering- not the kind you can get from a Chinese duplicate goods shop. For a second, he wondered if, by being so courteous with then, Ronny was hoping that Silverston would step back from pressing the plagiarism issue.
‘If that’s what he thinks, he has another thought coming’.
Ashley’s eyes widened as Ronny presented her with the doll. The doll’s black velvety eyes and the perennial smile on it lips both seemed to her like invitations to give it a close hug and a kiss. Ashley looked at her father, the unspoken question on her lips, ‘Can I have him?’
Up close, the doll looked even finer than before- the fur on its body a veritable cushion into which you could plunge your fingers and feel heavenly, the design as cute as it was ergonomic, and the size itself a testimony that it was meant to be an accessory that looked most fashionable with wealth. The only thing off about the doll, felt Silverston, was that instead of the white and black of most such toys, it was all gray.
‘Maybe it’s some other kind of bear and not a Panda.’
He wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea of his daughter being given an expensive a gift- that too by someone they just met for the first time. But the openly glad look on Rony’s face as he presented her with it, coupled with the look of anticipation on the child’s face were enough to break down such defenses in Silverston and make him say, “Go ahead, darling, take the doll, but do say thank you to the uncle!”
Soon, Ronny occupied the sofa adjacent to the one in which the father and daughter sat.
As the child sat immersed in her play with the gray doll- which she promptly named as Chandler- the name of the bear in her favourite cartoon show – the two adults talked about business.
Ronny iterated how he would like to settle matters without having to go to the courts. He proposed that Silvesrton hand over the rights to the song to him for a price. “Assuming that you hold the right to the song and not the producer of the television show.”
Silverston assured him that he did possess the rights, he had checked before going to the lawyer. Ronny said that in that case, he would have his lawyer draw up an agreement which Silverston could come and sign, along with his lawyer in a couple of days.
“Would 50 Lakh rupees be considered a suitable price?”
At first, Silverston thought he misheard the price. When he called his lawyer to tell him about the call from Ronny, the goat-lawyer told Silverston that while it’s fine going down to meet the music director, “You shouldn’t discuss any matters regarding the copyright issues!”
But now that Ronny himself has broached the subject, he felt drawn in, especially given the price that he suggested.
Silverston, and the goat-lawyer had agreed that they would press for 20 lakh rupees. They expected 15 lakhs after negotiations.
But half a crore rupees! Why, if Silverston was savvy enough, he could kiss the drab task of garment wholesaling goodbye by making the right investments. Who knows, maybe he could even try another hand at music-making! Maybe create his own albums?
Flooded as his mind was with things he could do if he got the money, he didn’t show his happiness in front of Ronny.
Simply saying, “Let me think about it, I would get back to you,” he added that they should be leaving.
“Wouldn’t you stay for dinner!,” said Ronny, looking genuinely hurt.
“No, maybe some other time,” said Silverston.
Ronny looked at Ashley, hoping she would have a different idea to her father’s. However, the child was too pre-occupied with Chadler to take notice of Ronny.
Sighing, Ronny nodded at Silverston, giving a half-smile which still showed how sad he was about having to see them leave.
Before reaching home, Silverston dropped in at the local supermarket. He wanted to pick up a couple of ice-cream boxes to celebrate with his family Ronny’s offer.
It was while he dipped his hand into the supermarket freezer that the disturbing sensation which has been lurking beneath the surface of his mind stirred into motion. Walking towards the check out counter with the boxes of ice cream, and the Maggi Noodles which Ashley insisted she should have the very same night, he recalled how during the entire conversation with Ronny, the latter kept looking at Ashley frequently, as though he wanted to ascertain that she was real and not some phantom which may evaporate in the next instant.
He also thought of how easy it all went- the way he invited them, how courteous and friendly he was, the way he offered so much money without Silverstone even mentioning about the plagiarism.
It’s almost like everything went too easy. And if there was anything that Silverstone has learned in his more than four decades on earth, it was that things rarely went too easy in life.
“Is it the little one’s birthday, sir?”
His was brought out of his pondering by the question from the girl at the counter. In the black cap and green supermarket uniform, the young woman looked cute when she smiled.
“No,” said Silverston, thinking how Ashley too would one day would be as old as this girl.
But there was something inside him- a meta thought, perhaps which sent shivers up his spine- making him raise to himself, for no palpable reason, the question of whether indeed little Ashley would make it to this girl’s age.
As he walked home from the supermarket, Ashley holding his hand, he admonished himself for thinking such baseless thoughts, that too on a night when he should be happy.
Once he reached home and saw the happiness which bloomed on his wife’s face when he told her about Ronny’s offer of half a crore rupees, the dark thought had left him completely, like bats taking off into the sky, leaving an overburdened tree free enough to stand to its full height.
That night, there were no bats flying anywhere near Silverston’s house. But the sky was dark, dark enough to make it look as though someone had painted it in the blackest of ink.
The two children slept peacefully. No dreams or nightmares disturbed them.
But soon after midnight, Anderson stirred. Had either of her parents seen that, they would have found it surprising, for Anderson was a deep sleeper. Indeed, it was with much hardship that her mother woke her up every morning to go to the school.
He sat up, bleary eyed, but his head buzzing – as though a hundred bees were released into his brain. The sound escalated, like that of a plane nosediving to its demise, and at one point the boy thought that his head was going to explode with the noise. Hasn’t he seen the other day in a movie how a fat white woman sang at the top of her lungs on a stage causing the glasses of the building to explode? Maybe something like it would happen to his head.
Indeed, he pressed the palms of his hands against his ears in a futile attempt to block out the noise. But the sound continued, though in an altered form. The heightening pitch of the drone slowly ebbed and gave way to a low moan which soon transformed into words. The voice sounded like his own, only as though he spoke from within an ice cave.
“Anderson….” The voice was saying. “Andy…why do you remain asleep when it’s time?”
But I am not asleep, Anderson spoke in his mind, completely sure that whoever or whatever spoke to him could hear him. He felt eager to please the source of the voice, because the voice was so gentle, so understanding. If a beautiful dream could be translated into a sound, it could be like this.
Now that the disturbing buzz had given way to this most soothing voice, Anderson took his hands off his ears.
“Come one, Andy,get up and get moving,” the voice was presently saying. “Get up and get moving down to the frontyard. You needn’t bother getting dressed. You look good as it is in your tee and pyjama bottoms.”
The voice was coming from his right and sure enough, when he turned his head – there it was, on the table beside Ashley’s stack of school books, the doll which she brought from the music director’s home. When he first saw it, he thought it was not all that great, because of the colour.
Now, it was reduced to a silhouette, expect for its eyes which gleamed green. The more he looked into those eyes, the more Anderson felt that the eyes far surpassed the doll’s body in terms of depth. He felt as though the eyes were tunnels which extended all the way to the end of the world and beyond.
Mesmerized, he got off the bed, and following the doll’s command, walked out of the room, silently, so that Ashley, who was fast asleep in the next bed wouldn’t be disturbed. The boy moved with a determination which was reserved for those on a religious mission, his silent strides carrying him steadily across the corridor which led from the kids’ bedroom to the living room.
No one in the household heard him unlock the door. No one saw him walk out into the dark night, alone but not at all frightened, completely sure of his purpose; indeed, smiling as he walked into the arms of the man who was waiting on the porch, pleased with himself for carrying out the wish of the voice.
There is no alarm clock in the world more efficient than a 4 year old kid at the top of her lungs. Both Silverston and his wife woke up immediately, both of them blinking furiously to keep the sleep from taking them again. From the pale light that came in through the windows, Silverston surmised that it was early morning.
Which was when he came fully awake- for what was Ashley doing up so early in the morning?, the thought crossed his mind with the rapidity of a knife slashing across a crucial vein. Her playschool started only at 11 and her mother took her there only by 10: 30 every day. The kid usually slept until 8 on a school day. And this was a weekend, a Saturday.
Even before he looked at her, the disturbing feel which fluttered around in his mind last night on the way back from Ronny’s house once again took shape within him. And this time, it was much bigger than before. If last night the feeling was like a shadow which followed him down an alleyway, this time around, it was a horde of demons- bodies filled with vile boils dripping green fluids and having tentacles instead of legs, which gave chase.
“What? What happened?,” he said, taking hold of Ashley’s hand.
“Brother is not in the room!”
They checked the bathroom, checked the balcony, the terrace, even the kitchen and the store room(though they couldn’t imagine why the boy would go to any of these places). It was Silverston’s wife who went to check the living room, hoping that he was lying asleep on the sofa- he had done that a couple of times before, when the heat got to be too much in the room, he went and slept in the living room where there was better air circulation.
But of course, the sofa was empty, except for an empty popcorn bowl which the kids had left there last night after watching the television.
But turning her head, she saw that the front door was unlocked. She rushed to the door, smiling, believing that her son was out at the porch. And when that turned out to be not the case, she sobbed, heaving, crouching down, the tears which she bravely kept in check so far beginning to flow profusely. It was in that state that Silverston found her when he came out of the house.
It’s the doll!, Silverston was sure. It has got something to do with the doll.
Indeed, after ascertaining that the boy was nowhere in or around the house, the first thing he did was go and check the doll, inspecting it closely, turning it around, peering closely at its liquid black eyes, checking under the ears- all foolish gestures as he would surmise in hindsight.
He called the parents of all of his son’s friends. When it was past the opening time for school, he even called there, knowing only well what the answer would be. “No, sir, he is not here!” the teacher said, trying her best to keep the concern out of her voice, thinking that the parents shouldn’t be worried any more than they had to.
It was after the call to the school that he decided that he should go to the police station. That brought a fresh bout of tears from his wife’s eyes. “We will come with you!” she said.
“No, let me do this alone. You get Ashley ready for the playschool. I will come back and take her there. Don’t worry, I am sure the police would be able to find him today itself. How far could he go? It’s our Anderson, after all..” he added, even offering a feeble smile.
Silverston went to the bedroom and put on a shirt and a pair of pants- the first ones that his hand found on the hangar, the same ones that he wore to Ronny’s house last night. He was coming out of the bedroom, folding the cuff of his shirt when his cell phone rang.
The call was from an unknown number but he picked it soon enough. Even as he brought the phone to his ear he imagined the words that he wanted to hear. “Sir, I have found your son. He was wandering around the streets. He gave me this number…” Some benevolent stranger calling to say that the world hasn’t come to an end, after all.
But the voice that spoke on the other end was not that of a stranger. It was Ronny who was calling. Soon as Ronny began to speak, the demons which had materialized inside Silverston’s mind began to cackle- a sound which was like a cross between a cauldron of boiling broth and a bunch of dogs growling.
“Who was it?” his wife said once he got off the phone. She was giving Ashley a bath when she heard the sound of Silverston’s phone ringing. Hoping the same thing as he did about the call, she had ran towards him.
But judging from the expression on her husband’s face, she was sure that whoever called, didn’t do so to give any good news.
“What is it?” she asked again, hardly able to keep the frenzy out of her voice.
Silverston looked unsure how to explain what Ronny just said, words which he himself was still trying to make sense of.
“It was..it was Ronny,” he said. “He says he has Anderson. He says that I must go there with Ashley to get him back.”
When his wife suggested that she go with them, he told her no. Even with her repeatedly asking the same, he declined. “Just you and the kid. No one else. No police, no relatives, not even your wife. In fact, no one else should know that you are coming here!” that’s what Ronny had said.
“Why don’t you wait at Thushara’s home until we return?” he said. Thushara was their next door neighbor and a good friend of his wife.
But she shook her head. “I will stay here. I will be fine. But can’t you tell me why you want to take Ashley along with you?”
“I don’t know,” he said, a note of exasperation in his voice. “Let me go and see what it’s about!”he added.
From the hard edge which crept into his voice, his wife knew that it would be best not to press him any further. She also realized that he too was under severe stress-like herself.
“Please be careful,” she said. “If this is about the compensation for using your song, let it go…”
“Of course,” said Silverston, patting her on the cheek. “Of course.” He wanted to believe that things would come to an end so easily- by him signing over the right to the song in exchange of Anderson. But he also knew that that was unlikely. For one thing, why would he ask him to bring Ashley for that?
The more he thought about it, the less it made sense.
Only one way to find out, he thought.
His wife got Ashley dressed quickly. Before leaving the house with the child, he told his wife just one thing, “Don’t tell anyone where we went,” and as an afterthought, “And don’t open the door unless you know who it is.”
“Do you know who I am?..Of course, you know me as Ronny Sohren…the music director, the award winning, celebrity musician…But do you know me also as a father?”
Silverston blinked. He didn’t actually know that Ronny was a father. There was a mention of a wife who passed away many years ago, in his bio online. But as far as Silverston could remember, there was no mention of a child anywhere.
Not that he was interested in knowing. All he wanted to know was about his kid.
“Where is Andesron?” he said.
They were standing in the living room. Both of them wore the same clothes as the day before. It would have been easy to imagine that it was the same day if it wasn’t for the fact that unlike yesterday, Ashley was not wearing a frock but a pair of jeans and a demin shirt. Silverston held her close to him even as he kept his eyes on Ronny.
Though it was only afternoon, the light in the living room was dim. There were no lights on as the curtain was drawn on the glass wall- the one with the woman carrying the water pot. The door was also closed. The only source of light was what spilled in through the ventilation high above on a wall. The distance of the light source gave the whole room the appearance of a tunnel or a cylinder with the top undone.
“Where is Anderson?” Silverston repeated as he got no response from Ronny.
Ronny smiled- a thin crack appearing in the black face, exposing a sliver of white like the moon’s on a dark night.
“You call your son Anderson?” he said, “I mean, haven’t you given him a pet name or something.”
Andy, that was the name they called him at home. Silverston had always thought that it’s too American, so he usually stuck to Anderson- America being one country he politically didn’t like. The way he saw it, they were just bullies in the world’s schoolyard.
But those were details that Ronny didn’t need to know, he thought. “If you want me to give you the rights to the song, you can have it!” he said. “Just give me my boy!”
Ronny’s eyes strayed towards Ashley. The look on his face was positively lustful- not for want of sex, but lustful in the way someone would lust after gold. Silverston pulled the girl closer to him.
“I will give you the boy, come with me,” Even though he was speaking to Silverston, his eyes were still on Ashley.
Without waiting to see if the father and the kid followed him, he turned around and walked to a door at the end of the living room, adjacent to the open door that led to the next room.
The door which he opened was small-almost only half as wide as the front door. Silverton, having no other option but to follow him, went in the door and soon found himself going down a flight of stairs. The walls on either side of the stairs were filled with framed photographs- most of them showing Ronny accepting an award from a dignitary or a celebrity, a few showing other people- mostly great musicians like Mohammed Rafi or Aaron Copeland.
Silverston noticed how there was not even a single photo of Ronny’s family- nothing of his wife or the child he said he has.
The stairs led the father and daughter down to the basement, a 100 sq.feet area which took Silverston’s breath away. Not because of any elegance. In fact, compared to how well decored the upstairs was, the basement was pretty bland- dominated by pale brown wallpaper and bare surfaces. Just about the only furniture was a couple of chairs. There was also a black Marshall speaker placed against a wall. The speaker itself wasn’t anything special- at least, nothing that Silverston hasn’t seen in a studio.
What took his breath away was the hundreds of grey dolls lying on the floor all around them. Almost all the dolls were in different levels of mutilation, some missing a limb or two, some having their eyes hanging out of their sockets, a few with their innards- fluffy synthetic wool and soft fibre-exposed.
“The grey doll used to be my daughter’s favorite.” For the first time since he met him, Silverston sensed a note of sadness in Ronny’s voice. What with his butler-like courtesy the other day and the cool detachment with which he so far spoke today, he was beginning to think that the man was incapable of emotions.
Once he got over the surprise of seeing the mutilated dolls, Siilversyon took a closer look at his son, who was seated in one of the two chairs in the room. Apart from the fact that his face looked bloated with worry, the boy looked alright to Silverstyon. At least, there were no visible signs of hurt, and he felt thankful for that.
As he looked at his son who let out a sigh of relief at the sight of his father and sister- familiar figures in so strange and eerie a setting, Ronny began to hum. After spending the better part of a night listening to the song just a couple of days ago, Silverston had no trouble recognizing the tune.
Stopping humming abruptly, Ronny said, “You wouldn’t believe how much magic there is in your tune..trust me..” Ronny was smiling once again, the same warm smile which was a fixture yesterday. But for some reason, this time, instead of making him feel at ease, the smile sent shivers down Silverston’s spine. The switch from the sad face when he spoke about his daughter to the joyful smile of discovering magic in the art of song making was too abrupt, too discordant to be the product of a sane mind.
“And,” Ronny continued, “neither would you believe how hard I tried to find a tune such! I spent literally hundreds of hours to find it-and when I found it, ah, the sheer joy which struck my heart is inexpressible!”
“Listen, as I said, you can have the rights to the song. I will sign it over right now!” said Silverston. “Just give me my boy and we will be out of here!”
Ronny, though, continued as if Silverston didn’t speak.
“I started looking for it soon after my Lilly- that was my daughter’s name- died. Of course, I should have started looking for it immediately after I returned from the Netherlands. But then, I honestly didn’t think things would happen this way..”
Seeing the lost look in Silverston’s eyes, he stopped, and striking himself softly on the side of his head, said, “How foolish of me! Going on like this without even giving you a background. Well, I would have invited you to sit if there were any more seats here, so you can be comfortable while I tell you my tale. As it is, there’s just this one extra chair. Maybe little Ashley can take that?” He winked at Ashley.
“No, she is okay here,” said Sikverston. There’s no way that he was going to let Ashley go to that side, behind Ronny.
Ronny spread his arms in a suit-yourself gesture. He continued talking, and as he did so, began walking to and fro in front of the chair in which Anderson sat, nervous and scared. Though there was nothing overtly threatening about his movements, Silverston still felt the act of Ronny- a man well above 6 feet hovering around the little boy, never quite going far from him, to be like that of a predator rarely leaving its prey’s vicinity once it spotted the latter.
“I learned music at the Amsterdam University of the Arts, you see,” Ronny was saying. “It’s a beautiful place, Amsterdam is, as beautiful as what they say it is…Anyway, it was at the University that I met Bruno- a Swede who was also my roommate. We fast became friends- both of us sharing similar tastes in music- minimal electronica of the 70s and the romantic composers of western classical. Yet another thing that we both had a fascination for was tribal music.You know, even though we talk about how genres like classical music are the best suited for the modern civilized world order, it’s only the tribal rhythms which can make one completely make you feel okay about yourself-being an organic being with a lot of mysteries which science yet cannot fathom. Or perhaps never will…Whenever we discussed about tribal music though, it felt to me that Bruno was keeping something from me, as though he has in his possession a particular recording of music made by some unknown tribe, which would change your perspective about tribal music culture. Whenever one of us found a new recording, we would usually share with it with the other. So, I didn’t like the idea of him keeping anything to himself without letting me in on it. However, I never mentioned it to him, hoping that if he had something of the kind, he would come out and share with me eventually.
“And share with me, he did. For one day he took me aside and told me all about it. And it wasn’t a piece of recording that he was talking about, it was a live event. One that took place only once every decade- held in a garage by the bay, the location known only to the handful of invitees. Those handful of people, all Scandinavians, were related- in the sense that, they all shared a common ancestor by a few generations. And the music and dance event they held, was a long tradition by which their people sought to appease the dark forces inherent in the earth- the same forces that erupt the volcanos and make an overwhelmingly calm sea suddenly furious, disregarding the damage to humans. In other words, the forces of the earth which make a mockery of man’s fragilities.
“Bruno said that the next festival was going to happen the very next day. He asked me would I be interested in going with him- the music, he said, designed specifically to pacify the dark lords of the earth, would be like nothing we have ever heard. Of course, even though he has never been to a festival before, he was still a member of the family, and was invited. So, when I asked him how I could go with him when I was as far removed from his Scandinavian ancestors as possible, he winked and told me about the ceremonial face painting.
“There were patterns which had to be followed, which should adorn the faces and bodies of those who attended the event. ‘No one would know who you are by looking at you,’ said Bruno. The idea of finding an indigenous music culture- that too with decisive tribal roots- right there in Amsterdam was too good for me to pass up. So I readily agreed.
“The night of the event, we both went to the party- if it could be called so. There was a lot of loud music and plenty of drug taking involved, so I reckon you could call it a party. The music, as Bruno had mentioned had a quality which I have rarely come across in any music I have heard until then- it was at the same time ethereal and earthy, both innovative and atavistic, primal as well as deep…Of course, I understand that describing something in such contradictory terms doesn’t help paint a vivid picture ..but music, it’s not something that can be explained well in words, is it? It must be heard, experienced. You should know that very well.”
Silverston nodded, an automatic reaction, all the while wondering what this person was leading to.
“Listening to that music in that garage which was closed to the outside world, feeling my body move as if on its own volition, dancing along with a bunch of strangers who were all reveling, following the dictums of the ‘high priest- essentially, a DJ with a shamanic appearance, wielding the console expertly, I felt that it was the most powerful music that I have ever heard in my life. But even though the priest- a tall man with blonde hair kept saying things like ‘the earth force is pleased with our musical offering, dance, dance my children, and let the earth tremble and the force manifest!’ I couldn’t really buy into the idea- I mean, not even spiritually. The way I saw it, it was just a party for nerds who got fixated on customs that were created at a time when men lived much closer to nature than we do now. Sure, they upgraded the music-which apparently has been handed down generations-by incorporating electronic elements and using modern instruments, but apart from that, it wasn’t a progressive version of an ancient ritual, it was just a house party for a few family members. At least, that’s what I thought,” Ronny looked up, Silverston saw that his eyes had reddened, as though he was nearing something tragic in his narrative.
“Unfortunately, I was proved wrong soon enough,” Ronny said, “As the high priest’s exultations about the earth force’s appearance reached frenzied heights, there was a loud burst. At first I thought an electronic equipment had gone bust. But then, I saw swirling up from the ground, a mix of colours- golden, red, yellow and green and a multitude of hues which I can’t name easily- all swirling like in a whirlpool, vaporous, but slowly taking on a humanoid form. If I had envisioned the earth’s dark force as ugly and demonic, I was proven wrong, for the being whose transparent body was a mass of swirling colour vapours was one of the most beautiful things I have ever laid my eyes upon.
“Upon the being’s appearance, I bowed down, following what the others did. The high priest brought the music to an end and thanked the being in his sonorous voice, for making the appearance. It felt like the priest was honoring the chief guest- only the chief guest was not of this world, or maybe more of this world than you or I…The priest then implored the being to bestow its blessing on the gathering. Bruno, who was knelt by my side kept whispering ‘unreal, unreal’ for neither of us actually thought that there was anything to the story of summoning the earth spirit through the medium of music.
“But when the priest asked for blessing, the being looked around, it proclaimed that the ground where the ceremony took place was supposed to be holy. It proclaimed that the ground was now desecrated. The priest, his voice trembling, asked how that could be. Without hesitation, the being pointed a long finger at me. It didn’t take them long to identify me as an outsider. They asked me who helped me get in- they knew I couldn’t have gotten in without help from someone among them. I hesitated, not wanting to give up Bruno, for once the priest started questioning me, it was as though the very air in the garage changed- whereas there was an aura of exultation before, now the mood was beyond somber- every atom in the air throbbed with the potential for violence, and I could feel it as clearly as the increasing beat of my heart.
“Bruno came forward on his own volition. He apologized for making the mistake. I hoped that the apology would make them let things go at that. I said sorry to the high priest, told him that I would leave right away. The high-priest looked to the earth spirit for guidance. The earth spirt, true to form didn’t believe in being too lenient with humans, especially humans who made mistakes. It aced Bruno if he was the one who led me into the garage, pushing open the door. And When he said yes, it asked him which hand he used to open the door.
“We all knew what was going to come then. The earth spirit had my friend’s arm chopped off, blood sprouting from the stump like a fountain in hell, the nerve endings sputtering like tiny hoses trembling under the pressure of relentless flow, the enclosed space was filled with the sound of Bruno’s scream. And going by the smile that appeared on the being’s face, it looked as though it was even more pleased with the screams than the music. But even as Bruno was lying on the ground, thrashing his legs in an agony of pain, the being turned its attention to me.
“I thought it was going to mutilate me or worse. But it didn’t. It told me that I would have a worse fate. I would have the fate of seeing my progeny mutilated, and worse, if I would want to see her saved, I must become a murderer, that too a child killer- that’s the worst state for a human mind to suffer, it said….
“Had I not seen the being coming out of the ground, and had I not witnessed first hand the bloody mutilation it inflicted on my friend, I may not have taken its words seriously.
“As it was, the being’s words kept haunting me in many sleepless nights that followed. The fact that Bruno never returned to the conservatory also added to my agony. It was all I could do to finish the six months left of the course without losing my sanity.
“After getting back home, the fear in my heart began to subside- I guess I fooled myself into believing that the distance I have put between myself and the garage where I saw the being afforded me some protection. And with the passage of time, the idea of a spirt cursing me felt more like a figment of imagination than reality. Of course, the arm that Bruno lost and the blood he shed were real, no doubt. But something cursing me, about something that was in the future- that struck me as absurd. And once my career began in earnest and I started immersing myself in the world of music more and more, I even began to forget about what happened.”
Breaking his monologue, he walked towards a wall, cleared some of the tarnished dolls to reveal a small wooden box which lied underneath. Well lacquered and brown in colour, the box was some three feet long by two feet wide. Though it was rectangular, the sight of the box brought to Silverston’s mind the image of a coffin, one in which a young child might be incurred.
The wooden box, bulky though it looked, wasn’t padlocked. Easily opening it, he brought out what was inside it, carrying it with so much delicacy that he might as well be carrying a flower.
Anderson, who so far remained seated in the chair literally jumped up at the sight of what Ronny was carrying. For shrouded though it was in white cloth, it was evident from the outline that the man held a dead body in his arms- the body of a child.
Coming forward, Ronny laid the body down on the floor between the two chairs. Then he went back to the wall and dragged the box all the way to the side of the white shrouded body.
Looking up at Silverston, he blinked. “Now, where was I?” he said trying to recall where he let off his monologue. “Ah, yes, I started forgetting all about the ‘curse’ and got immersed in music-making. Somewhere down the line, I got married. We really loved each other- something of a rarity these days, I suppose. And when a baby girl was born to us, we were overjoyed.” Ronny looked down, his eyes turning moist, and when he spoke again, it was in a much lowered tone of voice, “Everything was fine for the first six months, and then, the curse began to take place. The mutilation that the earth-spirit talked about, it was more a disfigurement than a mutilation, for my little girl began to grow claws instead of nails; and by the time she turned one, she already had a mouth full of tiny jagged teeth. But before that, when the first of the teeth were sprouting from the tender gums in her mouth, she killed her mother. She suckled on her breast one day, my wife felt a small shaft of pain going down her flesh, she was taken ill the next day- doctors said it was poison in her blood stream that killed her. Only, they weren’t sure of the type of poison,” Ronny said all this in the most even of tones. Though the melancholy was unmistakable in his voice, there was never any show of drama.
“I sought a cure,” he said, “I wanted to make my daughter whole again- she is the only thing that’s a biological part of my wife, after all. Of course, I knew that the cure couldn’t be found in modern medicine. So, I went back- to Europe, I sought out Bruno with much difficulty. It took some convincing but eventually he took me to the high-priest from the ceremony all those years ago. He was surprisingly sympathetic when he heard about my plight. He recommended me a cure-asked me if I still remembered the song which he used in the ceremony, told me to try and find a tune that would put me in the same trance-like state which I experienced that night in the Amsterdam garage. ‘The song would show you the way to the sacrifice that will bring your child back to life,’ he said. At that time, my child was very much alive. But obviously, the priest knew what was going to happen. ‘Once you find the tune,’ he said, ‘it will guide you. But only make sure that the sacrifice is brought to you. You shouldn’t go after the sacrificial item yourself, that’s one of the ancient rules. In this case, it’s there to make your task even harder.’”
Whether it was because of all this talk about sacrifice and bringing the dead back to life, or standing so long breathing the stuffy air inside the basement, Silverston felt a little dizzy.
“Admittedly, what the old man was vague. But that was all I had to go on with,” Ronny was saying. “He gave me a piece of written music-which he said would ‘help me when the time comes.’
“I started searching for the tune, going through the world’s best music libraries in the process, searching across the globe. It took years but I found it, ironically enough, almost by accident. I went to the recording studio for making a mix one day, which was when I heard one of the technicians playing your song. In fact, he played it by accident- as he said he was looking for another track ‘when the old one popped up.’ Anyway, the moment I heard it, I knew it was the track I was looking for. I had a copy made of it. Learned that it was composed by someone who lived not more than ten kilometers from where I live, with two little kids of his own.
“Things began to fall in place. As the high priest said, once I got the song and I started listening to it, the song began to show me the way…so I inculcated elements of it in my own compostion, enough to make it bear the tag of ‘plagiarism.’ I knew you would then come for me. By this time, my daughter had begun to wane away- for no apparent reason. Almost without warning, she died. But I knew that if you brought the sacrifice to me…I would be able to bring her back.”
Calmly moving towards the de ad body, he crouched down and slowly began to unwind the white shroud.
Ronny hadn’t said how long ago the girl had died, and it was impossible for Silverston to tell the same from the dead body -though smeared ewithenough chemicals that it was well-preserved, its appearance didn’t give a clue as to its date of death. All he could say for sure was that the little girl wouldn’t have been more than 4 years old when she died.
And the claws- curved grey organic matter which looked like plasticized twig, gleamed in the chemical embalming. The girl’s lips were parted ever so slightly, and the pointed edge of a tooth jutted out from between the lips- a grotesque version of a bunny rabbit’s cute front teeth.
“So, so..you think that Ashley..my daughter..is the sacrifice that would bring your daughter back to life!” Silverston shuddered as he spoke the words, thinking that what he saw on Ronny’s face was madness of another order.
Ronny smiled. “Yes, yes.. your beautiful daughter is the sacrifice, and you have brought it here. I wasn’t sure if she was it initially- it was to ascertain it that I asked you to bring her here yesterday, so that I can see with my own eyes…such proximity always brings a clarity to matters, you know….And with some magical help that the high priest lend me, I was able to charm the doll which I gave her, which brought your boy right into my waiting arms!”
Ronny pulled out a white palm sized remote control from his jeans pocket. “The high priest gave me the precise directions to follow- he gave me the notations for the song I must play during the sacrificial ceremony, and now, here is the sacrificial item just as he mentioned!,” he added, saying everything in a whisper, now that he was sure he had the rapt attention of his audience. “Ah, finally, things fall into place!”
“You are mad!” Silverston murmured.
He looked at Anderson- the sound of whose rapid breathing, Silverston could hear clearly, notwithstanding the few feet that divided them.
If Silverston had hoped to come out of this by holding a calm discussion with Ronny, he now realized that that was no more a viable option. Ronny was obviously crazy- talking about things like earth spirit and sacrifice. Silverston discreetly gestured with his hand for his son to come over to his side. The good news was that Ronny, in his excitement relating his past to his guests forgot all about the two kids.
This gave Anderson the necessary leverage to move towards his dad, but he was only half way through when Ronny pulled out of his pocket the palm sized object. This made Anderson freeze whereas Silverston, who saw Ronny bringing out the object, out of the corner of his eye, turned his face towards the man who lost his daughter. He feared that the object in his hand might be a weapon- a knife, or a gun.
He couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief to see that it object was just a remote control. The logo for Marshal was visible towards the bottom of the small white unit. What harm could the remote for a speaker do?, thought Silverston.
He was about to find out.
As soon as Ronny pressed the play button on the remote, everything changed.
It felt to Silverston as though every nerve fibre in his body was being tightly wound, rendering them incapable of passing messages from the brain- particularly, the message to move his legs and get out of the basement room.
He had heard accounts of music having peculiar physiological effects on people- from helping the paralyzed walk again to giving a person in a supine position the temporary sensation of immobility. But what the music which Ronny played- the music handed to him by the high priest- was doing to them, was unparalleled. It was as though Silverston had consumed some sort of poison which fast made him lose his grip on his ability to move.
Looking around at the fluttering eyes of his children, and the way both of them stood still, with their hands pressed to their sides, as though they were standing at attention at a school assembly made him realize that the music- slow and rhythmic with the occasional whispered chants was having the same effect on the children as it did on him. Only, it seemed like they had entered into the trance like state must faster than himself. Maybe it’s because they were kids and their mental defenses were considerably thinner than his?
Silverston also suspected that he being a musician also had something to do with the better resistance he was being able to put up- already, in his mind he was humming a tune of his own making, the notes of which clashed with those of the song that was being played from the speaker. Silverston now realized that the walls of the basement were sound proofed, for the audio reproduction felt excellent from the speakers, every single note loud and crystal clear- if the music was meant to make a brain dead zombie out of him and his children, there was no better place to do it in.
He watched helplessly as Ronny moved towards Ashley and pulled her away as easily as plucking a flower from a stem.
No! Don’t do this! He wanted to scream but his tongue felt like a dead weight inside his mouth, an organ rendered incapable at a time when he needed the resource of his entire body. His pupils dilated with horror as he saw Ronny laying Ashley on top of the wooden box the lid of which was now closed. Ashley’s closed eyes fluttered but she never came fully awake. Her lips were pressed against each other and her skin looked pale in the hazy light of the lone bulb that lit the basement.
Ronny kneeled down beside the box and gently caressed Ashley’s cheek. “She is so lovely,” he muttered. Looking up at Silverston, he added, “I am so sorry I have to do this, but there is no other way!” Then, slowly, he pulled out a folded knife from his pocket.
It was with a certain ceremonial flourish that he went through the motions of unfolding the knife and raising -like a priest would the Eucharist. He then muttered a prayer which was, Silverston assumed, in some Scandinavian language.
Not that he was listening closely. He was busy placing random notes in his mind in between the notes of the music that was being played. If the song from the speaker had a four-bar passage, he would make sure to add an extra bar to break the rhythm- and more importantly, break the spell. If it’s C-minor that followed a particular note, the next time it came around, he substituted it with a B-flat, thereby disrupting the chord progression in his mind. Purely mental an activity though it was, it felt like he was pushing a boulder up the face of a hill. Every muscle in his body ached and he felt as though he was fast dehydrating. The tip of a dizziness which he glimpsed before snowballed into a pain that threatened to break his skull apart.
He kept on altering the song in his mind, nonetheless, for the child’s sake. It felt unfair to him that the music which had so effectively made Ashley putty in his hands and himself a mute witness to the tragedy in the making, was having no effect on Ronny. As much as he felt the idea of such things as magic and curse ridiculous, he couldn’t help but think that the immunity to the music which Ronny enjoyed must be due to some magic lent him by the high-priest that he talked about.
Hearing the grunt, Silverston looked down at Ronny, his eyes widening with fear, sure that the sound was a prelude to Ronny plunging the knife into little Ashley’s heart. Ashley lied their like the sacrificial lamb on a tabernacle as mentioned in the Bible, he thought. He felt close to tears, pitting his own helplessness.
But to his surprise, he saw that Ronny was still deep in his prayer, his eyes half-closed and his lips moving silently, the knife raised in a hand, it’s glinting sharp edge pointing right down at the supine girl’s body.
“Urgh!” He heard the grunt distinctly again. And he also saw Ronny and Ashley move slightly, as though the ground beneath them was a movable platform-like on a stage.
It was only with the next grunt that Silverston realized that it was he himself who made the sound. And the movement of Ronny and the child towards him, which happened again, was just a twisted way of his panic-addled brain understanding his own movement towards Ronny.
The distance between himself and the wooden box was just a few feet, but going by the effort that he required to cover the distance, it might as well have been a few kilometers. His feet moved as though he was wading through weed infested waters, his heart palpitated as if he was running a marathon.
Indeed, the way his heart hammered within his chest, he worried that it would burst before he reached the child.
“Ronny, don’t….do it!” he muttered even before Ronny stopped praying and brought the knife down forcefully on the child.
The combined effort of taking the steps and keeping the music altered in his mind was taking a toll on him. So much so that, even as he saw Ronny opening is eyes, having done with his praying, ready to bring the knife down, he felt himself stumbling- a fall that also meant the life of his daughter slipping away from his protection.
“No, please!” Silverston managed to shout even as he fell, face forward, seeing the ground rise up to him at an alarming speed. As is the case in such desperate situations, the body did something which was more impulse reaction than the result of logical calculation. Silevsrton saw his hand raise in front of him even as he fell- one of the moments in his life when he felt that the limbs had a life of their own(he used to feel that way sometimes when he composed a piece of music, seeing his fingers move on the keyboard, as if they had a life of their own, seeking out the next note without his logical intervention).
He also saw how the hand was in the path of the knife which slashed through the air. He felt the knife piercing the back of his palm like in a dream- his mind was still numb enough to cut off much of the pain. But when Ronny pulled the knife out, grunting impatiently since he missed the mark, he lost balance and fell backwards, tumbling the speaker in the process.
The speaker’s fall now made it face the roof, a fact that didn’t alter the quality of the sound within the basement- not by much at any rate. But a subtle change did happen, which perhaps only an audiophile or a musician would notice. And the perceptive mind is conscious of the second it takes for the ear to adjust to the new quality. That period of transition- short though it was, afforded a window in which Silverston’s mind was unshackled from the grip of the darkly magical melody, giving him enough time to crawl towards Ronny, and when the latter tried to stand up again, pull on his legs hard enough to make him fall again.
This time, the fall made the white oval shaped remote control to clatter on the floor, the red power button pressing against the floor and bringing the music to a stop, abruptly cutting off the current of dark magic which pervaded the air.
The eyelids of the two kids stopped fluttering, their organs of vision coming open like a blossoming flower. But there was nothing beautiful in the sight around them, as in a floral garden. For no sooner had they opened their eyes than they saw their father being attacked by Ronny using the knife. Silverston did manage to move out of the knife’s path on a couple of instances, once the edge of the knife passing his ear by a hair’s breadth. But not all of Ronny’s slashes went unconnected, though Silverston was mindful enough to block most of the attacks using his hands.
This meant that gashes of multiple lengths and depths began to appear on Silevsrton’s arms with an alarming rapidity even as he shouted to Anderson, “Take your sister and get out of here!”
The boy hesitated, but only for a moment. Feeling disgruntled, Ronny screamed as the boy took his sister by the hand and the two made their way towards the stairs which would lead them up to the door and the freedom that lied beyond. Shouting like a mad man, Ronny began to run after them. Only, no sooner had he taken two steps than Silverston tackled him, disregarding the pain that shot across his knuckles as he bent them in the effort to clutch on Ronny’s foot, giving the kids a head start in their attempt at escape.
Silverston held on to the man’s leg for as long as he could. But it wasn’t that long before another slash across the hand made him release his grip. By this time, he had heard the door to the basement opening and shutting- the kids hopefully should have got enough time to get out of the house before the mad man reached the front door with his knife.
Also, he hoped the kids wouldn’t hesitate in going out of the gate and putting as much distance between the house and themselves- neither of them had ever gone out anywhere on their own, not even to the neighborhood bakery to buy sweets, both Silverston and his wife were protective that way.
Ronny gave chase, climbing up the stairs two at a time.
He went to the living room and saw the front door wide open. Going out of the door, he saw that the same was true with the front gate as well. The latch on the gate was still titillating as he walked down from the porch- the kids had just left, if he could give chase, he may be able to chase them down.
He hesitated just for a moment before taking the next step towards the gate. There was no other option to save his daughter than sacrifice Silverstone’s daughter. And if he didn’t give chase now, he didn’t know when, or if he would get another chance to get the girl.
Four steps more and he would be out of the gate. But he took just two when he heard Silverston shout after him, “Ronny, stop!”
He turned around to see Silvertson, standing on the porch, with a steel object in his hand. For a second, Ronny thought that the man had found a knife from the kitchen and has come out to fight him. But a closer observation revealed that though the object in his hand was from the kitchen, it was no knife.
Silverston held the stainless steel gas lighter in his right hand- the hand which had sustained relatively lesser number of injuries, though from his elbow down, the entire mass of flesh was a tapestry of wounds and exposed flesh, painted over with drying blood. He found it nearly impossible to flex the fingers on his left hand- where he took the slash across the knuckles, and held that arm pressed to the side of his body.
Given the good dozen feet or so that divided him from Silverston, Ronnie thought that Silverston’s choice of weapon was odd. It was only on hearing Silverston’s next words that he realized what the latter had planned, and it made Ronny scared for the first time that day.
“I am going to burn your child!” Silverston shouted from the porch. “You would only have char, and ashes wouldn’t be enough to resurrect her, would it?”
“No!” Screaming, Ronny ran up to the house. Seeing him coming, Silverston turned on his heel and ran into the house, past the sofas on the living room where they discussed settling the plagiarism charge yesterday, past the glass with the lady with the pot, towards the basement door and then down the stairs.
He heard Ronny’s footsteps close behind him. As he reached the foot of the stairs, he heard a whoosh noise just beside his ear. He thought that it was the beginning of the music, thought Ronny was playing the music on the speaker again, thought he would be rendered immobile again, to find him completely at the mercy of the mad man.
Only as he saw the knife strike the floor and ricochet into the pile of dolls on the far side of the room did he realize that the sound that he heard was that of the knife passing him by, missing him by mere inches.
Thank god for small miracles, he thought, as he promptly moved towards the dead body on the floor. Kneeling beside it, he looked up at Ronnie, who came to a stop mere inches away. He was without his knife, but the rage throbbed in his temples like a frustrated animal locked in a cage.
Sitting so close to the corpse, the smell of the chemical embalming penetrated Silverston’s nostrils like sharp blades. He flinched involuntarily, and when his eyes fell on the girl’s claws, he felt bile rise to the back of his throat.
He hoped that what he knew about chemical embalming was indeed right. That inflammable materials are almost always used in such processes. Judging by the pungent aroma which made his head spin, it certainly smelled inflammable, like a vat of ethanol left in a closed room for months.
He expected Ronny to shout or scream. But the man- red rimmed though his eyes were with rage, looked at him silently- a final act of restraint which substituted for pleading for the life of his daughter. And the act of restraint made Silverston hesitate before lighting up the corpse. Was he not, after all, just a man who got carried away with his excessive love for his daughter? And wasn’t that, despite the devilish aspects of his behavior, something all too human?
Seeing Silverston’s hand that held the gaslight waver, Ronny rushed forward, screaming angrily. Silverston pushed the end of the lighter into the corpse’ naked torso and clicked it.
The flame engulfed the corpse much faster than Silverston expected, making him move back, seeing the blaze rise suddenly, as if a multitude of fiery hands extended from the body itself.
At the same time as the body caught on fire, Ronny fell over it, hugging it, a futile yet pathetic gesture to save his daughter. Silverston tried to pry him loose from the body, but by this time the fire was dancing madly and the heat and smoke rose to alarming levels within the basement. The few feet of distance between himself and the burning duo of the corpse and the man was no more enough protection against the rising heat which felt like it was licking the skin right off his face.
The tears that rose to Silverston’s eyes were not just because of the heat though. He sought, but couldn’t find in his mind any other option but to burn the body- otherwise, how could he be sure that Ronny wouldn’t come after his daughter again?
Yes, the justification was solid. But as he made his way up the stairs from the basement where the sound of the blazing fire mingled with the cries of a drying man, he didn’t feel vindicated.
In the movies, it always rains at a funeral, especially if it’s a Christian funeral, thought Silverston. Somehow, having a bunch of black umbrellas open to the sky makes it look more somber, more epic.
He was standing quite far from where the burial was taking place. In fact, far enough to be outside the perimeter of the cemetery of the St Thomas church in Pattoor. He stood under a tamarind tree along with a bunch of men who came for the funeral just because it was a celebrity’s.
No rain fell. In fact, it was hot as hell. The sound of the priest uttering the prayers as the coffin was lowered carried across the humid air to reach the ears of even those who stood under the tamarind tree. The priests’ utterance had a sing-song quality which was rather melancholic in nature- like the last man standing on the earth lamenting all the lost souls.
Perhaps, it’s the fact that it was a double burial which lent so much gravity to the elderly priest’s somber voice, thought Silverston.
Ronny Sohran died in a fire at his home, the news had said. The reason for the fire remains unknown, they said. There was no mention of girl’s body either
“Perhaps, it’s a cover-up sponsored by the film industry. Perhaps the nature of the child’s malformation was known to a handful of the powerful in the industry, and they respected the musician’s wish not to reveal anything about the girl.”
“Did you say something?”
Silverston wasn’t aware that he spoke loudly. Not until the man who stood next to him, a grey haired man with ageing skin and a thin moustache, asked the question.
Silverston shook his head and turned his attention back to the burial in progress. They were lowering the they were burying Ronny next to the tomb of his mother. But it wasn’t the coffin that Silverston’s eyes were on. They watched the ephemeral figure that was taking form just beside the priest who stood with his hands clasped in front of him, his expression somber.
Even as Silverston watched, vaporous hues began to rise from the ground very near to the priest. A swirl of green and gold and red and a host of other shades which were hard to name. It felt to Silverston as though he has been transformed into another creature and was looking at the being through alien eyes- eyes which granted him the power to see colours in different ways than humans.
What struck him the most as the humanoid shape took form was how much it resembled the description given by t Ronny. Or rather how much the dead music director had the shape fresh in his memory when he spoke about it, even though many years had passed.
Silverston saw the figure- the earth spirit turn its face and looking directly at him- as though this were a religious gathering meant to summon it from the nether regions of the earth where it resided for aeons, and he – Silverston was the odd one out, the one who wasn’t supposed to be here, the one who desecrated the ground. After all, he did kill Ronny, someone who possessed-inadvertently- a fragment of the magic which was bestowed on his people by the spirit.
Despite himself, Silverston felt a shiver pass down his spine, as though a chill draft somehow managed to enter his body from the outside world. Not that the outside world was cold. Anything but. It was still hot as the backside of the devil, but that didn’t stop Silverston from feeling for an instant as though he stood on ice.
There was nothing overtly threatening about the expression on the earth-spirit’s face. But still, the look in its eyes was intense enough to make Silverston shudder. More than just glancing at him, it appeared as though the being was marking him- for future prospects. What those prospects could be, Silevrston had no clue.
Silverston blinked but just once. However, when he looked again, the being was no more there. They were now filling up the hole in the ground with sand and the priest was moving away, the Bible held tightly in his hand, as though it were a shield he wished to use against death.
But there was no earth-spirit, no otherworldly visitor on the cemetery grounds.
“You okay?” the man next to Silverston asked, a mix of concern and a smile on his face, as though he was secretly pleased that a man at least a decade younger to himself would get pale faced after witnessing a funeral- after all he was the one who was closer to the grave! So, if anyone were to be worried by seeing a funeral, it should be himself.
Silverston nodded, without looking at the man. His eyes were still fixed on the spot where the earth-spirit stood just moments ago.
As he walked out of the church compound, he wished that what he saw was just a play of imagination. However, the chill which persisted in his bones told him otherwise.