Our Little Secret

Our Little Secret

“Some scars are numb. They rid you of the capacity to feel anything ever again.”
JOYCE RACHELLE

***

Today – The End

The silent suburban street of Gaurav Nagar, echoed in the night. The chirping of the crickets sounded angry and shrill; and the empty road hummed with a paranormal stillness.

The house at the end of the lane stood silent, betraying a hint of abandonment. Ivy had started climbing up on the rear wall of the house, and the grass in the front lawn, lay brown and parched. Dust had gathered up on the window panes, fogging and obscuring them, as if trying to hide its secrets.

Except that it was not ghosts that lurked inside the empty corridors; it was the memories of a family, and the horrible fate that met them.

The residents of Gaurav Nagar had no inkling of what was happening behind the closed doors of the house. Many had long since retired for the night. Milky, subdued lights flickered through the curtained windows, glowing darkly, like the eyes of a haunted beast.

Somewhere, an owl hooted sullenly. An ominous thud sounded from the ivy covered house, but the noise was a feeble, pathetic thing in the loud silence of the night, and was soon engulfed by the whooshing of the wind and rustling of leaves.

***

Two Years Ago – The Beginning

The end began on a cold December morning, when Arpita Khurana woke suddenly, the ringing of the telephone loud in her ears. The space beside her was empty; Bhuvan must have gone to the bathroom, she thought groggily.

“Hullo?” She croaked into the receiver.

“Arpita!” came a squeaky whisper and she was suddenly, wide awake.

“Who is this?”

There was a beat of silence and she heard someone breathing heavily at the other end.

“Arpita, it’s me! Kusum!”

“What’s wrong Kusum? God, you gave me a start!”

There was a protracted silence. Then Kusum, their next door neighbour, shrieked.

“Arpita. Listen to me. There is someone sitting on your porch! I spotted him just sitting there through my window! Arpita! He is covered in blood and he has a knife! And…”

Arpita waited in a scared, white silence. “Kusum?”

“Oh my god! It’s Ankur!”

The words hit like a lightning bolt. No. “It can’t be Ankur! He is sleeping in his room.”

She swept the sheets away. Quietly unlocking her bedroom door she started towards Ankur’s room.

“I am going there now, to check.”

The wailing on the other end quietened. “Yes. Go and check. Quickly! We need to call the police. Ohmygod! Oh, I hope nobody is…”

Arpita turned the corner and found Ankur’s bedroom door ajar. The rising sun illuminated the bloody footprints that marked the passage of a person from Ankur’s room down the stairs and out the door. She stared transfixed at the dark imprints.

No. No. No. No!

Trembling with fear, she advanced towards the door. Grasping at the vanishing wisps of courage in her heart, she pushed it open and a scream of pure terror escaped her.

“Arpita! Who is it? What happened?”

Kusum’s voice reverberated through the phone still clutched in her hand. The last thing she saw before fainting, were the tattered pieces of a blue tee shirt that clung to various other pieces of a body, scattered around the room, floating in an agglomerating river of red.

***

The police arrived and apprehended Ankur, divesting him of the butcher knife he was still holding.

What have you done! What have you done!

His mother’s screams echoed in his head as he looked up into her deranged face. It was a vast expanse of nothingness. Ankur could see snot running down her nose and into her mouth, which was open in a silent scream of horror and disbelief.

“Mommy, I killed the monster. It can’t hurt me anymore.”

She stared at him like he was the monster. He couldn’t understand it.

He recalled the moment when he had told her about the monster and how It was hurting him. How he had cried and begged her, to scare It away!

She had dismissed his fears, telling him that they were nightmares; that the games he was playing and the books he was reading had affected him, causing him to dream of monsters and demons. Instead of helping him, she had taken away his video game console.

Ankur looked at his hands. The policemen said he was covered in blood; but it didn’t look like blood to him. It looked black and slimy, an acid-like something that would ooze out of a dirty, nauseating crustacean with a horrific torn-up face.

He was led to the local police station, where after documentation of evidence, he was allowed to take a shower and was provided with fresh clothes. He watched the black muck run down his body and form circles around his feet as it slithered into the drain.

The holding cell was spare; equipped with a single steel slab with rough blankets to be used as a bed and a steel utilitarian urinal in a corner.

The monster was gone. For the first time in years, he felt safe. He fell back onto the ratty mattress with a sigh of relief and presently fell into a dreamless sleep.

He awoke after an indeterminate amount of time, with the sharp image of the overhanging light on his retinas; and the echo of the word ‘murder,’ ringing in his ears.

Then, he started crying.

***

Nine Years Ago – The Revelation

Ankur’s parents had parted ways when he was four years old. The bitter separation from his father had left his mother depressed and alcoholic.

About a year later, she started dating Bhuvan Khurana, a colleague from work, and miraculously, the mood of the house had lifted.

There was less darkness, less drinking and due to Bhuvan’s ministrations, his mother had seemed to positively glow. Bhuvan cared for his mother, helped around the house, babysat Ankur whenever she had important work engagements.

Arpita married Bhuvan when Ankur was six, and they became a family.

It started innocuously, a little touch of the hand, some tickling, caressing. It had felt to Ankur, like the caresses of his mother, gentle, loving, warm. He was too young to know that it was inappropriate, too young to differentiate between the right and wrong kind of touch.

After their wedding, Bhuvan started spending more time with Ankur. He took him to school, picked him up, and in the darkness of the night, long after his mother had passed out, from sleep on some nights, or from alcohol on some others; Bhuvan came to Ankur’s room.

Ankur didn’t know how to explain what was happening. Deep in his subconscious mind, he knew it was wrong. But at other times, he found himself pining for Bhuvan’s love and attention.

The first time Bhuvan raped him, Ankur was eight. His mother had been out of town for work and Bhuvan had come to his room.

It was pain such as Ankur had never known. Bhuvan had put his hand on Ankur’s mouth to stop him from screaming. Bhuvan had ignored Ankur’s cries; and continued whispering in his ear to keep quiet, that he couldn’t tell mommy, it was their little secret.

At some point during the years of abuse, Ankur came to associate Bhuvan with a grotesque monster from a drawing he had seen of a gargoyle. He drew the monster over and over again at the back of his notebooks till he had perfected every line, every shadow and poured out all his hatred and helplessness into its face.

At family dinners and on Sunday afternoons, when the family spent some ‘quality time’ together, Ankur stared at the inhuman face of the monster, sitting on the couch and reading the newspaper, and he imagined himself as a knight in shining armour, stabbing It with his majestic spear; or a terrifying executioner, standing at the gallows and dropping the sword onto Its head and watched it roll, spraying blood everywhere.

Ankur drew out these sequences in his mind and then in his books, in black and red charcoal. As the abuse increased, his drawings became more graphic and bloody.

He did not ask his mother for help again; he knew she would not listen. He kept it quiet, it was their little secret.

One day after school, Ankur and his friends had been walking back to their homes, when a rabid dog appeared, seemingly out of nowhere and attacked them.

They screamed and ran for their lives; they threw their water bottles at the beast and even their shoes, but it didn’t stop. It chased them down a dark unused alley, where it heaved giant sickening breaths, foam gathering at the edges of its mouth.

Unable to get away, the boys decided to fight it off. One of the boys ran straight at it, as a distraction, while Ankur picked up a discarded iron poker from the trash heaped by the alley wall.

Just as his friend ran past the dog and the hairy giant raised its haunches to attack, Ankur ran forwards with a battle cry and thrust the poker into its soft underbelly with all the force he could muster. The poker jutted out from the other side of the beast’s body and it went limp.

Seeing the life leave the hound’s body, Ankur felt all his fear disappear. This was instantly followed by an intense and overpowering stench of rage and hatred. He pulled the poker out of the dead hound and continued to stab it, once, twice, thrice… and his entire body blossomed into a sense of vindictive glory, until someone grappled him and a voice whispered into his ear.

It’s dead Ankur, stop it! It’s dead!

***

The very same night, Ankur decided to conquer his own demon. He wasn’t a scared little boy of eight anymore. He could fight back; and he did.

He mixed some of his mother’s sleeping pills  in a cup of hot cocoa, which she gulped down in one go. Ankur bade her goodnight and went to his room and waited.

An hour past midnight, he heard the monster moving outside his room. His entire body seized up in the heat of the moment. He saw the silhouette of the monster; Its eyes glowing in the darkness, saliva dripping from Its mouth as It closed the door and advanced towards him.

Ankur lay on his stomach, his skin erupting into gooseflesh in the chill of the night and the anticipation of the fight.

It started to hurt Ankur. Clenching his teeth against the pain, Ankur quietly slipped his hand beneath his pillow and gripped the cold hilt of the knife he had hidden there. He struck out like lightning and slashed at the monster’s neck. Black goo spurted out from the cut and It stumbled back.

What are you doing! It shouted.

It sounded to Ankur like the bark of the dying hound he had encountered in the alley. He struck out again and sliced Its chest. It grunted and fell back against the door.

What are you doing! Stop! It shouted again.

But Ankur was not going to stop; not now, when he was so close! He jumped on the monster and stabbed as hard as he could at Its neck, again and again and again. He felt the life drain away and the body beneath him slackening; he saw the light in those glowing eyes recede into darkness.

Ankur sat on top of It, reeling with a sense of triumph, howling maniacally, he hacked away at the beast’s body until his hands were tired and his body screamed in pain.

He knelt beside the mangled remains of the monster. He was covered in the tar-like goo that had oozed out from the many gashes gleaming on the beast’s body. Tiny flecks of bone and sinew clung to his skin and were enmeshed into his curly hair. He could hear the silent drip-drip of the goo falling from the knife in his hand, on to the floor. The thick, black goo pooled around his knees, encircling him into a halo.

Inside his head, Ankur was floating. His mind and body seemed to have left the morbid scene in front of him and were serenely flying over green meadows and blue lakes.

After a long time, or so it seemed to him, he woke up. The black goo had now congealed around his knees; the corpse in front of him had started to smell, and was attracting tiny flies.

Suddenly the confines of the room felt overwhelmingly oppressive and he was seized by an urgency to be outside. He tiptoed down the stairs. Once outside, he saw that dawn was breaking and the sky was turning from a deep inky blue to a reddish, almost vibrant pink.

He smiled, sat down on the porch and breathed deeply.

***

One Year Ago – The Intermission

Dr. Rachna Talwar watched as Ankur stood, an empty shell of a boy. Depleted, he stared at the handcuffs that bound his wrists together.

“I hope the evaluation was fruitful, Doctor,” the Inspector asked and Rachna jolted awake from her contemplation.

“Yes Inspector, it was. I think Ankur and I have managed to uncover the truth.”

Ankur looked at her at the sound of his name. Rachna gazed into his dark brown eyes and felt her heart fill with pain and pity for this young life that was destroyed beyond repair by the actions of one man.

“I am sorry for what you have gone through Ankur. I know recollecting these memories has been extremely painful. But I do hope that you will allow me to continue our sessions and to help you deal with the pain and perhaps move towards a better life?”

He kept looking at her; his eyes betrayed no emotion. Rachna wondered if he even registered what she was saying. She watched silently as the policemen took him away to be held in his cell, awaiting trial.

***

Today – The End

“I am sorry. I am so sorry! I am sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me. I am sorry I couldn’t protect you. Please baby. Please!”

Arpita howled and beat her fists on the table separating her from her son. Ankur looked at his mother, the expression on his face unreadable; blank, absent.

They were sitting in the visiting room of the juvenile detention centre where he had been moved after his trial. Taking into account the evidence of the psychiatric evaluation, uncovering years of sexual abuse, the judge had declared that Ankur had been in a state of psychological dissociation when he had murdered his step-father.

As he was a minor, death by hanging was ruled out and the judge had reduced his sentence from life imprisonment to 15 years.

The judge had also mandated simultaneous psychotherapy, before he was officially an adult and could be moved to a maximum security prison where he would be spending the rest of his sentence.

“What do you want me to say?” Ankur asked, exasperated. “I forgive you? Fine. I forgive you. Did it help? Does it change anything? Does it make me any less of a murderer?”

He shook his head. “I killed him! That is my truth. You could’ve stopped it, but you didn’t. And that is your truth.”

He got up from the table and gestured to the guard on duty that he was done. He looked down at the shell of what used to be his mother.

“Goodbye. It’ll be better if we don’t see each other again.” Without a backward glance, Ankur walked away.

***

That night in his cell, he used the bobby pin he had stolen from his mother, to unscrew a loose bolt from the corner of the steel slab that was his bed.

Then, he used the bolt to gouge out the veins in his wrist. He worked slowly, patiently through his skin, as the tiny droplets of blood turned to a stream and then started squirting out of his cut veins like ruptured pipelines.

Inside his head, Ankur was floating. His mind and body seemed to have left the confined space of his tiny cell and were serenely flying over green meadows and blue lakes.

***

The news of the suicide reached Arpita and she found herself beyond grief, beyond regret.

She hummed to herself as she tidied up her house. She washed the curtains, vacuumed the carpet, and even ventured into Ankur’s room. The blood had long since been cleared away, the carpet changed and the sheets thrown out.

To Arpita however, it still looked like it had that dreaded morning; soaking, dripping and smelling of blood and death. She glanced at the various pictures papered around the room, of her only child who was no more.

She sat on his bed and tied the sheets together; then she lugged the sheets over the ceiling beams and made the loop. Gingerly, she stood on the wooden stool she had dragged and placed on the bed.

She looked at the spot where she had found her husband’s body hacked into pieces by her thirteen year old son. The son who had come to her for help from the monster who was abusing him in this very room, while she slept soundly, uncaring, in the next one.

The body was still there, the blood was still there, and now, Ankur was there, kneeling beside the mangled remains of his monster, slowly gouging out his own wrist.

Arpita Khurana pulled the loop around her neck and kicked the stool out from under her. The stool fell onto the floor with a loud thud. For a minute, her body swayed, jerked and fought in desperation to breathe in one last lungful of air; then her eyes popped and her tongue lolled out.

Slowly, blissfully, darkness enveloped her.

***

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One thought on “Our Little Secret

  1. Hi Monica,

    This was a gripping read. You have brought to light a very important issue through your story and also highlighted the fact that parents need to take their children’s fears seriously and not simply brush them away. I agree the story required a description of violence but a trigger warning at the start could have helped, for the description of assault and violence in the story could be disturbing for many readers.

    Keep up the good work.

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