The pregnant clouds seemed ominous and were ready to break out any moment. The howling wind whistled a familiar haunting tune, replete with impending doom. Susurrating leaves twirled in monstrous shapes across the road as if spreading out a carpet for what was to happen. All memories revolved around framed and pulsated in flashes as Karthik started the car. He seemed anxious and lost in thoughts. He adjusted the rearview mirror one last time to catch a glimpse of his house that had witnessed all the events in his life—every brick breathed memories of joyful moments he had woven with his family. His wife Seema, stood near the door wearing a red silk saree. The red bindi and bright sindoor accentuated her face. With a smile, she waved him goodbye. His daughter, Preethi was standing beside her. Karthik waved at them—for one last time with a heavy heart.

He then glanced at this watch, feeling jittery. It was time. He couldn’t afford to be late—not even by a minute. Sometimes the fear of the known could be much more intense than the fear of the unknown. Karthik knew it the best.

He had something important to do and it had to be executed to perfection. He started the car and pressed the accelerator pedal without bothering to buckle his seat belt. His car turned right and proceeded towards the road ahead. He prayed sincerely. Tears streamed down his face incessantly but he kept going without bothering to check the speed dial. 

Yes, I’m a loser! I would fail my duty as a husband, and father. My unfulfilled duties will haunt me long after I’m gone—even in the grave. But I have no choice. Forgive me, Seema. Forgive Papa, my princess!  For this is the price I have to pay—the price for love. I have made my decision and this is my final wish—death wish. Everyone will be protected because of what I’m about to do. The universe sometimes conspires the vilest things one can ever imagine in their life. But it is inevitable and beyond anyone’s control. I tried. With all my might. Yet I failed. Nothing can be altered. Not anymore. Some mistakes do lead to grave outcomes.

With a solemn expression, he stared at the road ahead.  A lorry entered the intersection, all of a sudden. Karthik pressed the accelerator in full throttle and soon the car rammed against the lorry unapologetically. He felt a sharp pain as his body lost control and hit the hard interior surface of the vehicle. Shards of broken glass from the glass windows pierced through his body injuring him fatally. He writhed with excruciating pain and felt as though his entire body was exploding until a void silenced it all to traverse him across an unknown realm.

Karthik was dead. It was all over. In a flash. Period.

An Hour Earlier

Seema adjusted the pleats of her red silk saree. It was a saree that she had reserved for special occasions. Today was their tenth wedding anniversary. She wore a ruby-studded gold necklace and chunky jhumkas—her husband’s favorite. She glanced at the huge mirror of the dresser and placed a red bindi on her forehead. The red bindi looked beautiful and complimented her fair face. She then patiently outlined her doe-shaped eyes with kohl eyeliner. 

“Happy Anniversary, my love!” said Karthik as he woke up. 

“Happy Anniversary, my dear! Strange! You woke up earlier than usual. And you remember that it’s our anniversary. You always forget, don’t you?” asked Seema.

Karthik remained still for a moment and then exclaimed, “My calendar reminded me. Ha ha! Where’s Preethi?”

“Good that you remember, my darling! Preethi is still sleeping.”

Karthik heaved a sigh of relief when he heard that Preethi was sleeping.

“You look so beautiful today. I wish I could skip going to the office today and spend time with you but I’ve got to go. I have an important client meeting to attend. I will try to take a few hours off in the evening. We can probably go out for dinner.”

“Thank you! You are so sweet. I’ll be waiting for you. Let me go now. I have to prepare breakfast and pack lunch for Preethi. There isn’t enough time.”

Karthik pulled Seema close and kissed her.

“I love you very much, Seema.”

“I love you too Karthik.”

Karthik gazed at her eyes for some time and then let her go. The clock was ticking.

 “Karthik! Which sweet do you prefer, Kheer or Carrot Halwa?”

“Carrot Halwa,” said Karthik without paying much attention. His mind was preoccupied with several other things.

Karthik took a shower and got ready in a jiffy. The blue full-sleeved shirt and black trousers fit his six-foot frame perfectly well. His hair was neatly combed. And he glanced in the mirror once. He ensured that none of the fears he harbored were evident on his face. He tried to appear cheerful before going out of the room.

His daughter Preethi was busy searching for something.

“Are you searching for your Math book?” asked Karthik, smiling.

“Yes Papa, how did you know?”

“You always misplace it, haha! Here you go, I already found it for you. Keep it inside your bag,” said Karthik.

“You are the best dad ever,” said Preethi, hugging him.

Karthik hugged her and shuddered to think what might have happened had she not found the book.

“Now, have your breakfast and go to school quickly. Don’t miss the van. Hurry up!”

Karthik glanced at his watch. The clock was ticking. He had no time to waste.

“Seema, I have to leave. It’s getting late. I’ll come back soon as promised. We can go out in the evening,” said Karthik. He also planned to surprise her by buying a diamond ring. He just hoped and prayed sincerely that everything went as planned—at least this time. 

He kissed Seema and Preethi before leaving. He started the car and glanced at his wife and daughter one last time until he turned left and took an alternate route to his office—the one that passed through the market. The skies appeared cloudy.

Several thoughts crossed his mind but he did not want to get distracted. One small mistake could lead to drastic consequences. He revisited all the happenings since that morning. He was confident that nothing would go wrong.

He drove ahead for some time and the traffic lights turned red. So he waited at the intersection. As he turned to glance outside the window he saw Seema. She was having a bunch of carrots in a transparent bag and was waiting to cross the road.

Why has she come to the market? We just had groceries delivered yesterday. Is it because we had no carrots?!”

Karthik closed his eyes for a moment and tried to remember everything that he spoke since morning and then it hit him.

As she crossed the road, a speeding auto that failed to wait for the traffic light to turn green knocked her down. A steady stream of blood oozed from her mangled and lifeless body.

Karthik was taken aback. He froze and a cold chill ran down his spine. He did not get down from his car. 

“Seema…No, No! Shoot! I shouldn’t have said Carrot halwa. I should have said Kheer. Why did I? How could I be so careless? One small mistake from my side has led to a disaster”

“No, Seema! You cannot die. You don’t deserve to. It’s all my fault. Let me bear the consequences of my actions. Nobody else should. One last chance…is all I have.”

He closed his eyes as if to pray. Large shadows loomed close to him but he did not move. Tears streamed down his face. A sudden gale of wind stormed past and the events that happened swirled like a whirlwind.

 An Hour Earlier

The alarm blared at full volume. Preethi woke up. Seema came rushing inside her bedroom.

“Wake up, my princess. It’s already time. Take a quick shower and get dressed. I’ll prepare breakfast by then,” urged Seema.

“Ma! Just a few more minutes, please. I feel very sleepy,” pleaded Preethi.

“I need you at the dining table in exactly twenty minutes. Make it fast.”

“Ok, ma!”

Preethi got up hesitantly and rushed to the bathroom. She had a quick shower and got dressed. She glanced at her timetable and as she packed her backpack. Her math book seemed to be missing.

“Ma, did you see my math book anywhere? I have to submit it today. I can’t seem to find it,” yelled Preethi at the top of her voice. 

“You always seem to lose your stuff. You have to learn to be more responsible,” replied Seema.

“Papa! Did you see my math book?” 

Karthik had seen the book lying under the sofa. But he chose to remain quiet. 

“Find it yourself. Look properly, my dear. As your Ma says, you have to be more responsible.” Karthik uttered the exact same words as before.

“Pa..pa! You are not helping me.” Preethi sulked. 

Karthik kissed his daughter and hugged her.

“My dear Princess! You are my baby doll. Better hurry up.” Karthik hugged his daughter and was lost in thoughts.

I wish to watch her every single day. I want to give her the best. I want to watch my princess win awards and accolades.

“Papa! Now, leave me. I have to go,” she said.

Karthik shook from his reverie.

The smell of ghee-roasted cashews was wafting through the air. Seema was busy preparing kheer. 

“Seema, Preethi! I have to leave now. I will come back a little early in the evening,” said Karthik and kissed them both before leaving.

Preethi was still searching for her math book and didn’t seem to find it. She could hear the van driver honk. 

“Ma! Can you drop me at school? I need to find my math book.”

“Ok! I will. But let this be the last time,” replied Seema.

The van driver left. 

Karthik glanced at his watch. It was time. The clock was ticking. 

I will leave a little early and take an alternate route. He thought to himself.

He left in a hurry. He didn’t bother to even tell Seema and Preethi that he was going to leave.

After a few minutes, Preethi successfully found her math book. She felt relieved.

“Thank goodness! You found it at last. Now quickly gulp a glass of milk and get ready. No time for breakfast. I have already packed your lunch bag. Your dad didn’t even tell us he was leaving. He could have dropped you off at school,” said Seema.

Preethi got ready. Seema started her bike and drove towards the school. It seemed like it was going to rain any moment. 

After driving for a few minutes the bike hit something sharp. The front tire was punctured. And they were stranded in the middle of the road helplessly.

“Oh no! Now I have to take it to the mechanic. Who will drop you at school?” Seema was very worried. As Seema pulled the bike towards the shoulder with Preethi walking alongside, she was surprised to see Karthik’s car approaching the junction. The traffic lights had turned red.

“Ma, look! It’s Papa’s car. I will ask him to drop me at school. He usually doesn’t take this route, right? Anyway good for me,” exclaimed Preethi and started running towards the junction while the lights were still red.

“Wait, Preethi! Don’t run. There are a lot of vehicles on the road,” screamed Seema. But Preethi didn’t seem to pay attention.

As Preethi ran towards her dad’s car she failed to see the lights turning green. A white SUV came storming past and knocked her down. The traffic came to a halt. Seema came running hysterically.

Karthik glanced in the rearview mirror. He gasped and could not believe what he saw. He then alighted from his car.

“Karthik! Look what has happened. Preethi…Preethi,” Seema was overwhelmed with tears. She could not speak and was about to faint. Preethi was surrounded by a pool of blood. She was lying face down and part of her skull was visible. 

Karthik felt helpless. He felt as though all his efforts were in vain. He tried recollecting the events since morning and then it dawned upon him.

Shoot! If only I had given her the math book… Then she wouldn’t have missed the school van. And this accident could have been prevented. Preethi is just a child. She doesn’t deserve to die. She has her whole life ahead of her. I will have to undo everything. Again.

Karthik closed his eyes. He had to set things right. He cursed himself for having erred. Despite all the commotion around him, he whispered something in solemn silence. All the events that happened since morning revolved in rapid succession from finish until start until he fell into a deep slumber.

An Hour Earlier

Sunlight streamed from the transparent glass window, nudging Karthik to wake up. He tossed and turned hesitantly in his bed. His wife Seema tried waking him up. 

“Karthik, wake up! It’s getting late.”

“Oh ho! Can’t you let me sleep peacefully?” Karthik mumbled.

“Do you remember what day it is?” 

“Hmm, No! And why are you wearing a silk saree?” asked Karthik, puzzled. Seema usually wore it only on special occasions.

“It’s our anniversary today. You forgot this time too. Again.” Seema was furious.

“Oops! I forgot. Happy anniversary dear. Please forgive me, my love!”

Chalo! I’ll forgive you. Now, better get ready soon.”

Seema waited to see if he kissed her but he just rushed inside the bathroom to shower.

“Which sweet do you prefer? Carrot halwa or kheer?” she asked. But Karthik had already locked the bathroom door. She decided to make kheer.

Karthik was dressed and finished his breakfast in a jiffy. 

His daughter was searching for her math book. 

“Papa, did you see my math book?”

He scanned everywhere and soon found out where the book was hiding but he remained quiet.

“Find it yourself. Look properly, my dear. As your Ma says, you have to be more responsible.”

 “Papa… You are not helping me.” Preethi sulked and made a face at him.

“Stop making faces. Go, get ready now.” He spanked her. 

Karthik glanced at his watch. He was getting late for his office. He started the car and waved at his wife and daughter.

He usually took the highway since it was the fastest route. He switched his headlights to a high beam since it had suddenly turned cloudy and visibility was poor. He was driving at more than the recommended speed limit to reach his office, and his phone rang. As he swiped his phone it slipped and fell, unfortunately. 

“Damn!” He exclaimed and unbuckled his seatbelt to reach out for his phone that had fallen under the seat. He failed to notice the lorry that entered the approaching intersection. One seemingly harmless action was all it took…

His car crashed against the lorry unapologetically. The pain was unimaginable and he soon became unconscious. In a matter of few seconds, his heart stopped beating and darkness enveloped him.

Soon, white hazy rays escaped from his muted body. His soul was completely detached. Karthik was taken aback. He stared at his lifeless body in disbelief and was tormented by the gruesome sight of his punctured torso due to shards of glass.

How can I die? No…No! 

A dark, eerie shadow descended from the skies and surrounded him. The whole atmosphere was filled with a deafening silence. 

“You are dead Karthik.” The shadow manifested into a monstrous form.

“Wait! Who are you? I don’t deserve to die. Not at this age. I have a family to take care of. People whom I love and need me.”

“I am Death. Your time has ended,” the monstrous shadow whispered in a bellowing voice.

“No! It’s not fair! You have to give me a chance. Please, please.”

“I could give you a chance but that will most likely make the situation graver and you will face repercussions.” The shape-shifting shadow let out a sinister laugh.

“No, nothing can be graver than watching my family suffer without me. Please,” Karthik pleaded, in between his sobs.

“Ok! Since you insist. I will give you not one but three chances. Every chance will allow you to rewind time by exactly one hour. But be mindful of what you say, what you do. Every action, and every word you utter has a domino effect. And… only you will remember what happened in the elapsed hour every time you rewind. No one else will. You must not whisper a word about this to anyone.” The shadow replied after pausing for a while.

“Sure! I will. Everything will work out just fine. Just let me know what I should do to rewind time.”

“You just have to close your eyes and sincerely pray for it. Whisper your wish to rewind time by exactly one hour. But remember, you get only three chances. And choose them wisely. I repeat, every action of yours will have a domino effect and divergent outcomes.” 

“Sure. I will be mindful. Thank you very much!”

Karthik closed his eyes and wished to undo everything that had happened by rewinding time. But he was not aware of the grave things that he was about to witness. He was not aware that all his efforts were going to turn futile. He was oblivious that he would be wishing for his death after the horrendous things that were about to follow. 

Death is inescapable. Death is unpredictable. Death is merciless. Death can be unreasonable. Nobody can defy death.
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Gowri Bhargav
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