Friday, 13 January 2017

Red Rock Rampage by Ben Boulden, 2017

I enjoy reading Ben Boulden’s book reviews over at his blog Gravetapping. They are a solid piece of work—very focused, balanced, and well-written. And now, I very much look forward to reading his first novel Red Rock Rampage, which will be released on February 6.

Red Rock Rampage is the fifteenth book in the Blaze! Adult Western Series created by bestselling action-adventure author Stephen Mertz. It has a great cover, fascinating characters, plenty of action, and vivid descriptions.

In the novel, “J.D. and Kate Blaze ride into the settlement of Small Basin, Utah, on the trail of train robbers but soon discover that the town and the surrounding area are ruled by the iron fist of a renegade Mormon patriarch—and he has his eye on two beautiful young women he intends to make unwilling brides. Hired killers, corrupt lawmen, and brutal kidnappers mean a heap of trouble for the Old West's only husband-and-wife gunfighters. Forced to split up, Kate and J.D. have to battle their way back to each other to survive!”

J.D. and Kate Blaze are not your regular fictional heroes. According to series publisher Rough Edges Press owned by prolific author James Reasoner, “(They) are two of the deadliest gunfighters the Old West has ever seen. They also happen to be husband and wife, as passionate in their love for each other as they are in their quest for justice on the violent frontier!”

Ben, who reviews mystery, crime, and thrillers on his blog as well as for Mystery Scene Magazine, says his 115-page debut novel will be available as both an ebook (exclusive to Kindle and also available through Kindle Unlimited) and a trade paperback. You can pre-order the Kindle version for now.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Drubble #2: A story in 25 words

He barked, stuck his tongue out, wagged his tail, spun round, and pawed the door.

"ALRIGHT!" my dog said to me. "You wanna go down?"

Sunday, 8 January 2017

With Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India, 2016

I wrote my first story on a Godrej typewriter. It was an interview with former playback singer Preeti Sagar. The Q&A appeared in Free Press Bulletin shortly after I joined the tabloid as a reporter in the mid-eighties. Until then, I had only been editing stories on India’s first homegrown typewriter, which, in many offices, occupied a large portion of a Godrej horizontal desk and sat next to a Godrej vertical cabinet. In those days, Godrej was synonymous with office furniture.

Long before that, I cut my teeth on portable typewriters. I learnt to change the ribbon and roll foolscap paper on Brother, Smith Carona and Remington that my father and uncle owned. Both were journalists and between them they had a top speed of nearly 200 words per minute. Cigarette between lips, they pounded away at the typewriters and delivered flawless copies for next day’s edition. You could hear the speed typing in the newsroom from quite a distance. It was, no doubt, music to the ears of editors with stubborn deadlines.

A year before I took up my first newspaper job at Free Press Journal Group, I enrolled into a typing and shorthand institute where I learnt the rudiments of ten-finger typing on Godrej machines, beginning with the home or middle row—‘asdf’ with the left hand followed by ‘;lkj’ with the right. I found it tedious. A month later, I was back to rapid two-finger typing. It was an insult to the typewriter. But that’s how I type to this day.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of memories that came back after I read With Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India edited by senior journalist and author Sidharth Bhatia. It resonated with me because of my experience with this unwieldy machine that made writers and letter writers out of so many of us. The 304-page well-illustrated hardback chronicles the long and rich anecdotal history of the manual typewriter, from the time industrialist Naval Godrej pioneered the first all-Indian typewriter in 1955 to its inevitable death by computers in 2011. The company stopped production that year, though you can still find old working typewriters outside courts, at street corners, and in small towns.

As Jamshyd N. Godrej, son of Naval Godrej and CMD of Godrej & Boyce, notes in his Foreword, “The book captures the story of typewriters in India from many perspectives, including the socio-economic perspective, which is about the impact typewriters had on the Indian masses. It is also about the contribution typewriters made to bring women into offices in larger numbers—a huge step forward for their empowerment in India.”

The Godrej typewriter, a complex machine with 2,000 high-precision components, was one of post-Independent India’s earliest instances of self-reliance in manufacturing. It was testimony to a young nation’s capability to mass-produce an indigenous typewriter and take on established foreign brands like Remington, Underwood, and Imperial. And it came 60 years before the government launched its ‘Make in India’ initiative.

“The story of the Indian typewriter is more than just a matter of manufacturing a piece of office equipment; it is the story of one man's dogged determination to make a machine that would compete against the world's best. And most of all, it is part of India's own goal of becoming self-reliant,” Bhatia writes in his engaging piece titled Making the Indian Typewriter: The Godrej Story.

In many ways, the history of the typewriter is also the history of the typist.

An entire generation of people across cultures and communities—from the office stenographer to the court typist and from the public librarian to the newspaper editor—broke their backs and built their careers on the typewriter. There was no social barrier to using the machine. The typewriter was an equaliser. It defined the Indian workplace more than any other office device. In nearly every commercial enterprise or government office someone or other hunched over a typewriter, either typing from a handwritten document at the side, winding a new spool and occasionally making a mess of it, or rubbing out lines with a circular ink eraser and tearing a hole through the paper. It was both frustrating and satisfying.

The typewriter sat on the office desk or a roadside table with a degree of self-importance. Over tea and gossip, it did many things at once—it told stories, dictated letters, made rules, typed affidavits, hired people, balanced accounts, prepared invoices, and wrote out inventories. It was also privy to all kinds of information, including secrets and lies. If the typewriter could talk, I suspect, it would have strained ties and damaged relations among peoples and societies. But noisy as it was, the typewriter remained a mute spectator throughout its eventful existence.

With Great Truth & Regard is a nostalgic throwback to a time when typewriters influenced and shaped ordinary lives. It is an evocative collection of memories, essays, observations, short accounts, and titbits about a 20th century innovation that users took for granted. No one really expected the typewriter to all but vanish. After all, it had achieved so much in the sphere of communication, employment, socio-cultural diversity, including film and television, and women emancipation.   

Launched on December 2, 2016—to commemorate the birth centenary of Naval Godrej (1916-2016)—the volume contains personal narratives by eminent Indian writers, historians, journalists, and social commentators. It is not just a tribute to Godrej typewriters but a testimonial to all typewriters in India. Some of the chapters that I particularly enjoyed were The Rise of the Indian Typewriter, South India's Relationship with Typing, The World of Steno Stereotypes, The Shift from Typewriters to Computers in Journalism, Writing the Script of Life: The Typewriter in Hindi Cinema, and The Immortal Typewriter. It is further enriched by dozens of photographs by Chirodeep Chaudhuri. The vintage illustrations and advertisements of typewriters tell their own story.

If you worked on typewriters, then this book will take you down memory lane. And if you did not, you can still enjoy reading about one of the great utilitarian devices of the 20th century and see what you missed. At 300-plus pages, I felt the book was a tad long but I suppose that bit can be overlooked given the fond memories the typewriter evokes.

Now, the "Backspace" has long replaced the "xxxx" but I would like to think that a part of the manual typewriter still lives on in the keyboards we use today. 


Title: Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India
Year: 2016
Editor: Sidharth Bhatia
Pages: 304
Publisher: Godrej
Distributor: Roli Books, India

Note: All images are sourced from the book.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

A year gone, a year to come

Since I did not write or review much this year, I thought I would at least end the year with a post on one of my favourite literary genres—classical poetry. Fittingly, a poem about New Year's Eve or New Year.

There was plenty to choose from. I read Alfred Lord Tennyson's The Death of the Old Year, Thomas Hardy's New Year's Eve, Christina Rossetti's Old and New Year Ditties, Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne, Helen Hunt Jackson's New Year's Morning, D.H. Lawrence's New Year's Night, Sylvia Plath's New Year on Dartmoor, and John Clare's The Old Year.

I liked them all.

A lot of people look at the old year with sadness, regret, and emotion. And a lot of writing, and especially poetry, reflect those feelings. We remember it mostly as just another year when we grew old and where we could have done so much more, personally and professionally. Fortunately, our minds are trained to conveniently hide unhappy memories, if not erase them completely. Every passing year brings in its anguished wake a new year filled with renewed hope, optimism, and purpose of life, where we dream of doing better than we did in the previous year, and where we truly believe—"This is going to be my year. And I am going to make things happen for me and my family."

Of all the beautiful poems I read, the one that resonated with me this evening, hours before New Year, was The Year by American author-poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919). I thought it was realistic and balanced. I liked the way it bids goodbye to the Old Year and ushers in the New Year, depending on how you read it. And it rhymes very well too.

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of a year.

Ella Wheeler's most famous poem was Solitude which gave us the equally famous opening lines:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth
But has trouble enough of its own.

I sincerely hope you will have lots of reasons to laugh in 2017 and beyond. I wish you a joyous New Year filled with health and happiness.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, 1905

"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied."
— Opening lines of the story

The Gift of the Magi is one of American writer O. Henry's most famous short stories. It is often read at Christmas time. It is also told to children as a lesson in love, giving, sacrifice, and morality. Basically, that which is good in people.

Jim and Della are much in love and happy in their marriage. The couple live in a small apartment, lead a simple life, and have just enough money to get by. In spite of their poor situation, they decide to surprise the other with Christmas gifts—by giving up their most important possessions.

On Christmas eve, Della sells her beautiful knee-length hair and with the money buys a lovely pocket watch chain for her husband. Jim sells his gold watch, a family heirloom, and uses the money to buy hair accessories for his wife.

As you might have guessed, both end up buying gifts that neither of them can use.  

The Gift of the Magi—an allusion to the Wise Men who brought gifts for the new-born Jesus—is a feel-good story even if somewhat poignant and sentimental. Jim and Della discover something more priceless than expensive gifts—their love for each other. Can there be a better Christmas gift?

O. Henry reminds me of two other great storytellers, Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant. All three authors are known for their very affecting stories—about ordinary people and their destinies, their lives and relationships—which usually end with a twist. My feeling is that O. Henry was wittier of the three. There is subtle humour in this story.

I thought this was the perfect story to read and review in the spirit of Christmas and the goodness and simplicity of life. I first read it a long time ago, probably in school, as my wife reminded me. It is a true classic and very relevant in our times. 

O. Henry, who was born William Sydney Porter, first published the story as Gifts of the Magi in The New York Sunday World, December 10, 1905. Apparently, he wrote it in one of New York's oldest bars called Pete’s Tavern. A year later, it appeared in the O. Henry Anthology The Four Million. The story has been adapted to various cultural forms including film and television.


Saturday, 17 December 2016

Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen releases new novella

Award-winning Danish author Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen has announced the release of her second Tora Skammelsen novella, Miller's Cottage, which is about the curious writer from Thy, the north-western corner of Denmark. Dorte, who writes and reviews crime and mystery, lives in this beautiful region.

"The story can be read as a stand-alone, but for readers with an interest in Tora’s private affairs it may be a good idea to read North Sea Cottage first," Dorte says on her blog djskrimiblog.

In the nearly 100-page novella, "Tora buys her home near the North Sea, but village life does not quite live up to her expectations. Soon she develops a keen interest in the activities of her peculiar neighbour Margrethe. Why does the widow try to hide the fact that a man is living with her? Besides there is Rune, the charming sales rep at the Old Mill Inn, who all but sweeps Tora off her feet while her friend, Police Inspector Thomas Bilgren, is preoccupied with a bank robbery."

In North Sea Cottage, Book 1 released in June 2014, "Tora Skammelsen...retreats to her aunt's cottage to get away from it all. Here, on the Danish North Sea coast, she tries to make sense of her life and rid herself of the ghosts of her past. When the old stable catches fire leading to the discovery of a skeleton, Tora is faced with ghosts that go even further back, to the time of World War Two. Now she must uncover her own family secrets, but will she learn the truth in time to save herself?"

I like the thought of reading about a young writer dealing with family secrets on the picturesque North Sea coast. It sounds mysteriously haunting.

Dorte has also written two short stories featuring Tora — The Woman Behind the Curtain and Football Widow. Here's what these stories are about.

The Woman Behind the Curtain describes one week in Tora's life. "(She) returns home to her parents to unwind after her harrowing experiences in volume one, but life in the sleepy suburb seems tedious and repetitive—until the morning when a neighbour does not draw her bedroom curtains."

In the second story, "A football star is injured and returns to Thy after a glorious international career. His wife revives her friendship with Police Inspector Thomas Bilgren. Soon she asks Thomas and Tora for a lift home from the sports centre. An ugly surprise is waiting for them in the couple's kitchen."

This is the order of the four Tora Skammelsen novellas and short stories for Amazon Kindle.

1. North Sea Cottage — Book 1, June 2014
2. The Woman Behind The Curtain — Book 2, December 2014
3. Football Widow, Book 3 — May 2016
4. Miller's Cottage, Book 4 — December 2016

The 3Cs has previously featured blog friend Dorte and her books here and here. Readers can buy her books at Amazon and read her blog at djskrimiblog.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, 1969


The eerie moan rolled out across the valley in the twilight.

My copy of the book.
These are the best opening lines I have read so far this year. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought the lines belonged to a horror or fantasy novel.

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave is the tenth book in the original 43-book ‘The Three Investigators’ series and one unpublished title. Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews—who operate out of a house trailer inside a salvage yard in Rocky Beach, California—come to the Crooked Y Ranch on a vacation. The ranch, owned by the Daltons and located near Santa Carla along the Pacific coast, is straight out of a Western novel minus the crooked foreman and rustlers.

Instead of enjoying their holiday and working as ranch hands, the plucky investigators find themselves in the thick of an exciting adventure-mystery—investigating the source of a moaning sound coming from one of the caves in the belly of Devil Mountain.

The sheriff has made no headway in the case. Locals believe the eerie sounds are coming from legendary bandit El Diablo’s cave. Worse still, the people, including a historian and friend of the Daltons, think that Diablo must be alive. Never mind if that makes him almost a hundred years old.

Jupiter, Pete and Bob explore Devil Mountain in Moaning Valley with little more than flashlights and get more than they’d bargained for. The boys lose their way inside dark caverns, get ambushed and walled in, meet two shady old prospectors and a mysterious stranger with an eye patch, stumble upon a secret naval exercise, and finally confront the bandit himself.

So, what—or who—is making the moaning sound? Is it man-made or is it a natural occurrence? Or is it linked to the old diamond mine inside the mountain? 

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave is packed with suspense and surprises, and some tense moments. Although targeted at young readers, it can sit well alongside adult crime and mystery fiction. While the characters of the three investigators are amateurish, in the mould of Frank and Joe Hardy, they look for clues, take undue risks, and pursue the case like seasoned detectives. Jupiter’s “logical mind,” Pete’s “athletic skills,” and Bob’s “research and data keeping” eventually helps them solve the mystery of the Moaning Valley.

In terms of style and story, there are obvious parallels with the Hardy Boys, which I enjoyed reading in school. The book held up for me even after more than three decades because I didn’t think of it as YA fiction. I read it like I’d any other mystery. There is often a thin line between YA fiction and adult fiction.

Source: Wikipedia
About the author

My Armada (later Fontana Books) edition of the tenth novel says The Mystery of the Moaning Cave was written by Robert Arthur Jr (1909-1969), who created the series and wrote many of the early stories. But Arthur wrote only books 1 to 9 and 11. So there is some confusion. He believed using a celebrity name, like Hitchcock, would help popularise the series among young adults. Most of the novels involve baffling events and strange phenomena.

According to Wikipedia, Arthur wrote crime and speculative fiction, and was also known for his work with The Mysterious Traveler, a radio series (and a magazine and a comic book). He was honoured twice by the Mystery Writers of America with an Edgar Award for Best Radio Drama. He also wrote scripts for television, such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock's TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Arthur has also written short stories and has been credited with editing collections attributed to Alfred Hitchcock.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Drubble #1: A story in 25 words

I have written 50-word Dribbles and 100-word Drabbles. For the first time, I tried my hand at a 25-word story that might just come true someday. I'd like to call it a Drubble. The inspiration was a near-miss with a porter—or coolie as they're still known—at the suburban railway station where I get off. In fact, I've had several near-misses. Porters and deliverymen carrying their burden on their heads and shoulders are a common sight at most railway stations in India.

I saw a porter with a load on his head and ducked.
Then he saw an overhead cable and stooped.
And knocked me out cold.

Friday, 11 November 2016

‘Flash fiction makes the daily discipline of writing a lot more fun. And it can spark real creativity’

Guest Post by Margot Kinberg, academician, writer, and blogger. She recently released her fourth novel, Past Tense, in her acclaimed Joel Williams series. Margot also writes short stories and flash fiction, and regularly blogs about crime fiction at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

© Margot Kinberg
Writing is a lot like any other skill: it needs to be honed. And that means writing on a daily basis. One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is through flash fiction.

One thing I love about flash fiction is that it allows the writer to play with ideas without the commitment to a long story or a novel. And that allows for all sorts of experimentation and exploration. To put it another way, flash fiction makes the daily discipline of writing a lot more fun. And it can spark real creativity.

Flash fiction is also really versatile. For example, my host, Prashant, is quite skilled at 100-word stories called Drabbles. That structure encourages the writer to use powerful language that tells a story in just a few words. You can even try a shorter format – the 50-word story that author and fellow blogger Rob Kitchin has called the Dribble. Both formats help the author to reduce a story to its essentials, and convey quite a lot with a few well-chosen words. That’s got much to recommend it.

Those micro-stories aren’t for every writer. Some writers choose slightly longer flash fiction stories. Those allow for a little more atmosphere and character development, and they can be really helpful for the writer who’d like to work on those skills. Again, it’s an effective way to some vital daily practice.

Because flash fiction is flexible, that means the writer can try different voices, different genres, and so on. It also means that established authors with a continuing series can ‘test the waters’ with new characters and settings.

The benefits of flash fiction go beyond helping the writer hone skills. Flash fiction also helps to build (or keep) a reading audience. Publishing flash fiction on one’s blog or other website introduces the author to readers. Then, when there’s a forthcoming book, readers are more likely to be interested. The same may happen for editors or agents who are looking for new talent.

Flash fiction can also provide interesting opportunities for publication. Sometimes, magazines or other journals open up to submissions of flash fiction. There are also flash fiction competitions. All of those allow the author the chance for wider recognition.

Sometimes, an idea that comes from a flash fiction story can develop into something more substantive. Just one element of a shorter story can inspire something longer – even a novel. For example, in one of my flash fiction pieces, Planting Season, a body is found buried at a landscaping site. It got me to thinking about how remains might be discovered, and that’s just what I needed for a novel I was writing.

That novel turned out to be Past Tense, which has recently been released. In Past Tense, construction workers uncover a 40-year-old set of remains that turn out to be connected with a missing person case from 1974. My protagonist, former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, works in tandem with the police to find out the truth behind that death.

Admittedly, the main plot of Past Tense isn’t very similar to the plot of Planting Season. But the idea from that flash fiction piece helped me put together a plot element that I needed. And that ‘fed’ the novel. I got other little bits of ideas for the novel from other flash fiction I’ve done.

And that’s the thing about flash fiction. Not every piece will lead anywhere. Lots of mine don’t. But you never know when one or another piece might fill in a plothole, give you an idea for a character, or add a touch of atmosphere to something larger you’re writing. Some pieces might even evolve into a novel.

Thank you very much, Prashant!

Here’s more about Past Tense

A long-buried set of remains…a decades-old mystery

Past and present meet on the quiet campus of Tilton University when construction workers unearth a set of unidentified bones.

© Grey Cells Press
For former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, it’s a typical Final Exams week – until a set of bones is discovered on a construction site…

When the remains are linked to a missing person case from 1974, Williams and the Tilton, Pennsylvania police go back to the past. And they uncover some truths that have been kept hidden for a long time.

How much do people really need to know?

It’s 1974, and twenty-year-old Bryan Roades is swept up in the excitement of the decade. He’s a reporter for the Tilton University newspaper, The Real Story, and is determined to have a career as an investigative journalist, just like his idols, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He plans to start with an exposé article about life on the campus of Tilton University. But does everything need to be exposed? And what are the consequences for people whose lives could be turned upside down if their stories are printed? As it turns out, Bryan’s ambition carries a very high price. And someone is determined not to let the truth out.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Innocent Justice

A short story by Prashant C. Trikannad

The old proprietor of the country liquor shop on Market Road dropped the coins in the drawer and handed Kiaan a bottle of hooch wrapped in a plastic bag.

"Now you be careful with that, son," he said, leaning over the counter and pulling the young boy's raincoat together.

Kiaan nodded without looking up.

"Tell your father I said hi."

"He's not my father," the boy said.

"Uh, okay. You take care," the barman said. "The rain gods are in a foul mood tonight."

Kiaan gripped the bottle by the neck and went out into the night. Rain was falling hard and the narrow bridge leading to the other side of the creek, where he lived, was dark and deserted. The storm had taken out the street lights. As he trudged through the rain, murky waters swirled around his legs and escaped between his wet shoes, which made a sucking sound.

The night had a strange eeriness to it. Like walking through an old desolate house and sensing a forbidding presence. Another kid would have shivered with cold fear. Not Kiaan. He felt only anger and hatred, and a burning desire to kill his stepfather. He wasn't sure how he was going to do it. He shook involuntarily and his fingers tightened around the bottle of cheap Feni.

Tonight would be the last time his stepfather sent him out to fetch the bottle. As he walked the bridge, he looked at the ghostly shapes of trawlers bobbing in the distance where the creek joined the Mandovi River.

His father had died when he was six. Four years later, his mother had married his dad's best friend. She said she took the step for their sake, and because she felt he needed a father figure in his life. What they got instead was Jekyll by day and Hyde by night. His stepfather turned out to be a violent alcoholic and his sadistic abuse of Kiaan's mother started almost immediately after they returned from their honeymoon. Night after night the boy cowered under his blanket, trying to drown out the unnatural sounds from the other room, abuses and grunts alternating with screams and whimpers, and cried himself to sleep. Till one day, he swore to kill the man who’d destroyed their lives.

*          *         *

Kiaan crossed the creek, turned into a dark lane, and stopped. The rain was coming in torrents. Lightning waltzed through the sky and a thunder of applause rent the air. He looked down and found himself in almost knee-deep water. It felt cold against his skin and he shivered momentarily. He waded through the long shadows of dilapidated buildings on either side, their windows in wartime blackout. Suddenly, he gave a startled cry when he felt something crawl over his feet and crawl back again. Terrified, he ran, splashed, ran as fast as he could through filthy water and floating junk, clutching the bottle tightly in his right hand. 

When he reached the end of the lane, he turned left, climbed the footpath, and entered the last building. Light from a ceiling bulb danced in the pool of water on the floor. Flecks of yellow paint peeled off the walls. An ‘out of order’ sign hung on the metal-caged lift. Pigeons cooed in the ventilation above the doorway. There was no one about. Only the storm intruded on the stillness in the gloomy hallway.

The kid pushed back the hood of his raincoat and carefully removed the bottle from the plastic bag. He went to the entrance, dipped the bottle into the water, and smashed it as hard as he could against the wall. It broke on the third blow. When he lifted it again, he was holding the neck of the bottle with jagged edges dripping blood and water. Tears rolled down his face as he pulled out a shard of glass from his hand. He wiped his face on the sleeve of his wet raincoat and hurried inside. 

He waited at the bottom of the stairs, his eyes searching for movement. Finding none, he began to climb, one step at a time — holding the bottle away from him, like a blood-stained knife. 

*          *         *

Kiaan stood outside his door at the end of a dimly-lit corridor. He was breathing heavily and his heart was racing. Just like it did every night his stepfather returned home reeking of cheap liquor and stale smoke, and went after his mother. For the first time since he'd left the bar, he was frightened. He knew what awaited him on the other side of the door. What he didn't know was what would happen after he went in.

With tears in his eyes and a quivering hand, he inserted his key in the lock and turned it slowly when the door flew open and slammed against the wall. Kiaan pulled back with a start and dropped the bottle. The storm drowned out the crash of splintered glass. No doors opened. He stood there, frozen.

His stepfather was just inside the door, swaying on his feet. He was clutching his throat with both hands. Blood, the colour of dark red cherry, oozed through his fingers and trickled down his arms and smeared his bare chest.

“Kiaan, my boy!” he croaked, like a raven, and fell on his face at the boy’s feet.

At that moment, lightning flashed through the living room like disco lights. At first he thought he was seeing a ghost. Then he saw that it was his mother. Only now she wasn’t his mother. She was something else. An apparition of a beautiful woman without her soul.

“It’s over, Kiaan.” She reached out with her hand.

Trembling, he backed away till his hands found the cold wall.

© Prashant C. Trikannad, 2016