The azure sky was dotted with a scorching sun, along with nubivagant clouds lazily hovering above the sashaying trees below. The trees enclosed a vast expanse of verdoyant lawn with a fountain in the centre. A group of children gleefully hopped around it while enjoying the sun-kissed water sprinkles on their palms. This view was being appreciated through the sunglasses of Sebastian, seated in his air-conditioned chauffeur-driven car. Sebastian Ace- a thirty year old suave man with sleek black hair, intense grey eyes and a chiseled jaw-line. He was back to his native town after a decade of schooling in the US, to visit his only relative left in Splishtown, his uncle Ted, the local candy-shop owner. He was the one who had looked after little Sebastian after the demise of his parents in a plane crash. Sebastian proved to be a dedicated student and got a scholarship to study Biochemistry in the US, he later specialized in Molecular Biology.
“This seems to be an idyllic spot.”he uttered.
“Yes Sir, this is Verde Park. It’s everyone’s favourite place in Splishtown.”added the chauffeur.
“I see…”he replied, rubbing his stubbled chin in deep thought.
The car came to a halt in front of the conference hall Sebastian had booked. A group of suit-clad gentlemen were already waiting for Sebastian at the entrance. They escorted him to the meeting room where he briefed them.
“For projects led by me, You will known only by your team name- Heart, Spade, Club and Diamond. This is to assure uniformity among the members. No one will call anyone by his name here.”
“I have a new project in my mind- a Carnaval party for children of my town. We will host a five-day party, with various amusements. Some fun will do the kids good!”
“it will be at Verde Park…it’s spacious and well-frequented. Get the various supplies ready and start organizing. The theme will be Jungle Wonderland and you all will go there dressed as Playing Cards”
The marquee being built in the park was the talk of the town. The Banderole in front read ‘The Kid’s Wonderland Carnaval ’. They had only seen such carnavals on TV or heard about it when their friends came from the city. It was rumoured that the Candyshop’s owner’s nephew was hosting for the children of Splishtown, but no one had seen him yet. One week before the event, a signboard was kept outside listing the different games planned: Facepainting, Horror rooms, Jumping castle, Mini- Safari, Popcorn Booths, Ball-toss Bonanza, Inflatable Pool, Cargo-rope Ladder.
The board soon attracted its little audience.
“Wow this seems to be fun!” exclaimed Alan, a bubbly ten-year old with auburn hair and olive skin.
“Yes!”replied his younger sister Sana, her hazel-eyes sparkling with delight. “Josh, Rob and Ella come see what exciting games are there!”
The attractions gleaned ‘oohs and aahs’ from the delighted children but their joy was short-lived when they saw the price for the entry ticket. Hunched shoulders and forlorn faces slowly dispersed from the park.
“We won’t be able to pay this amount of money.” lamented Sana
“Even my piggy-bank won’t have this much.” said Rob.
“Sebastian my son! Am so happy you came to visit Splishtown. What a great man you have become!” Ted, the Candyshop owner declared.
“My pleasure Uncle.”
“Come I will show you around the Candy-shop. It hasn’t changed much since you left though. I still make my sweets using traditional recipes. People come from other cities just to buy sweets from Ted’s Candyshop.”
“Oh and the Carnaval is such a great idea, if you need anything, do let me know. I will be glad to help.”Ted proclaimed, “The kids of Splishtown absolutely love my candies!”
“I see…” Sebastian ruminated rubbing his stubble. He turned to his assistant and asked,” Club how are the preparations going along? Tickets have been booked?”
“No Sir, not many…”
“We will have to find a way to attract more children to the event.”
On Halloween’s eve another signboard was placed in front of the park, which instantly lit up the children’s faces. It read “Free entry for winners of Ted’s Candy shop organizes a Candy eating Competition’
“Yay we can try our luck! And Ted’s candies are yummy!”
“Free candies?” asked a familiar voice, it belonged to Gerard. The kid pushed them aside with his pudgy arms to read the board. “I can’t miss this!”
“Oh let’s do this! And we will get free candies too!”
“Let’s go and announce this to Edwin uncle.” Sana squealed.
“Edwiiiin Unncle, Edwiiinn-”
Edwin, a chemical Engineer, was busy focusing his microscope in his lab. He did not tolerate any interruption during his working hours , not even from his colleagues. The only ones allowed to disturb him were his niece and nephew who were staying with him during their vacations.
He unlocked the door,Sana and Alan dashed inside.
“Uncle you won’t believe what happened! We have a chance go to the Carnaval on Saturday, we will participate in the candy eating competition. you just have to sign the consent form!”
Edwin frowned, “I told you sweets are bad for your health and teeth, right?”
“Edwin Uncle please, only this time! We won’t eat sweets for one whole month after that.”
“Okay okay I will do that. Promise me you will be good kids and not be upto any mischief”said Edwin hugging them.
Carnaval Day 1 – Verde Park
The next morning saw rows of children with their parents at the park. The organizing group dressed as Playing cards with matching masks were giving out the participation forms to the parents. A bell -chimed and they all burst inside, they gasped seeing how big and nicely decorated it was from inside. Multicoloured balloons and faux foliage hung from the ceiling. In the centre was an English Ivy tree with mini-lanterns hanging from its branches, it gave the whole place an enchanted look. A wide array of Ted’s candies was on display on a big table surrounded by mushroom ornaments. There were piles of candy canes, popsicles, licorice and gummies in rainbow colours.
“So many kids turned up for the competition, I hope we make it!”Alan said to his sister and trio of friends.
“Winning this competition is a piece of cake!”Gerard exclaimed with a smug smile.
“Of course it will be easy for him, he is always binge eating!” whispered Sana to Ella.
Among the hundreds participating children, a dozen made it through. Sana , Alan and their three friends were among the lucky ones.
“Hey I made it through too!” Gerard announced still chomping on sweets. The selected participants were subsequently asked to announce which animal they wanted to emulate, by choosing the corresponding animal’s onesie and don it. They felt they were magical animals in an enchanted forest,
“Ooh a jungle safari, this is going be so adventurous in our animal costumes.” Ella said squeezing Sana’s hand.
Carnaval Day 3 – Verde Park
The Participants reported right on time in their animal onesies and were handed a chocolate each by the organizers. Everyday they would be given a caramel filled chocolate as an entry treat before they started they fun and frolic.
Gerard quickly stuffed his chocolate in his mouth and even snatched Alan’s one from him like he did for the first two days.
“Hehe that’s mine!” Gerard said smugly. “If you make a scene, I will tell my dad, he works in the Police, he will put you in jail.”
Alan shrugged, he did not want to spoil his mood arguing with him, and he remembered the promise they made to Edwin Uncle.
The children formed small groups and played pumpkin bowling , sack racing and cargo rope climbing.
“Wow your makeup looks so realistic, especially your whiskers.”Alan told Sana
“Yes I am loving my foxy tail too though I don’t remember them pinning it to my back”, they both burst out laughing and went to join another kid dressed as a spider.
A fake coconut fell from a palm tree, all of them ducked and the kid raised his forearm in defense. A thick gooey liquid dribbled down his forearm.
“Hey spiderman huh!”
“Yuck!” He said brushing away the sticky liquid “I didn’t ask for this!”
Few steps ahead, their friend Josh, dressed in a monkey onesie, climbed the ropes with impeccable agility and hung there from this arms.
“Josh you are not the weakling you were pretending to be finally. You are as agile as a monkey!”
Rob tried climbing too but he couldn’t go further and lost his balance. His fingers grazed Sana’s skin which started burning.
“Rob since when you have such sharp nails?”
He look at his sharp pointed nails, “Maybe I forgot to cut them, I was so engrossed in the games since Friday. Am terribly sorry” he answered sheepishly.
Their conversation was interrupted by a shrill cry. It was Gerard who had suddenly started yelling and stamping his feet on the floor. His eyes were blood shot, and he let out a deafening screech with saliva drooling from the angle of his mouth. He overturned the inflatable pool and, tore down the faux foliage and uprooted the palm trees from the pots.
“Hey what’s wrong with Gerard? Why is he acting crazy?” Rob asked.
Gerard seemed to be in a destruction spree, he was vandalizing the whole place.
“I don’t know but he seems dangerous. What if he hurts us?” Alan screamed, “let’s hide.”
“Let’s run.”yelled Rob.
A Diamond cardman rushed towards Gerard to stop him but what he did next shocked everyone. The kid punched him right in face and he got projected few metres away wincing in pain.
“He seemed to have got superpowers!” Sana told Ella in hushed tones.
Seeing Gerad’s excessive aggressivity, the other card men slowly retreated back and started running away. They were soon followed by the kids too.
One of the parents strolling the park spotted the organizers on the run.
“Hey where are you going? You are not supposed to leave the kids unattended right!”
“Hey I think something is wrong the organisers are fleeing.” He yelled to alert the other visitors.
“Let’s go inside. Maybe the kids are in danger.” Said Mr Harrow, one of the children’s parents.
The messed-up marquee was empty. “all of them run away!”
“what did they run away from?”
“or were they made to run away?”
“Looks like somebody got into a fight here.”
suddenly ears picked up a noise. Being part of a forensic team, he was attuned to picking up cues. He approached the source of the noise and lifted up the fallen palm trees . then he saw a trembling Alan, crouched in a makeshift cave, the entry of which had been blocked by the fallen palm trees.
“Come here buddy…where are your parents? Look around if you see them?”
He shook his head
“my uncle Edwin uncle”
“Don’t fret give me his number, I will call him.”
Edwin came in no time and met Mr Harrow.
“Hello, I am Mr Harrow, I am part of the forensics team in Splishtown, my son was part of this carnaval too. There is no sign of the other children here.”
“thank you for finding my Nephew,” said Edwin hugging Alan.
Alan quickly told them what had transpired in the marquee and how everyone had run away seeing Gerard’s behavior.
“You mean my son Gerard did all this? ”
“Does he get these emotional outburst often?” Edwin asked
Oh no he has always been a soft-spoken child!” he replied visibly flustered by the proposition. “He may throw tantrums for sweets but that’s it; he’s got a sweet-tooth my baby.”
’”I will go have a look if there are stranded children in the forest,they must not have ggone very far.”
“You do that while I look for clues here along with my team. I will deploy some police officers to the forest too.”
Secret Hideaway – 5.14 pm
“You bunch of idiots why did you run away?” Sebastian barked angrily on his phone.“Don’t utter nonsense. They weren’t supposed to exhibit any characteristics yet, it was going to be a cumulative process. That’s why we set up a camp for them. No problem. Bring them in our secret lab.”
“If the children followed you, it’s going to be easy to catch them, BRING ALL OF THEM HERE.” he continued through gritted teeth, “I will dispatch a team from here to take care of the aggressive one.”
He hang up and pouded his fist on the table.
“If someone spots the kids, we are going to be in deep trouble. they are our study group how could they let them wander off??
“Team Clubs, Take some tranquilizers with you and go towards the forest and find those kids, this time I want no mistake!! Make sure to Bring back the aggressive one, this one intrigues me!” he ordered.
Sebastian’s assistants set out, armed with syringes of sedatives, chloroform and torches. Different teams set out in different directions, combing each and every corner of the forest. One of the teams spotted a group of children huddled in a corner, they stealthily approached them and injected them with tranquilizers.
“There were more of them…they must be around”,he whispered motioning the other teammates to carry the sedated children to the van.
Alan and Edwin had reached the forest clearing too… Alan started yelling the names of his friends when suddenly he felt a hand cupped around his face.
‘Ssshhh….do not utter a single word!”hissed Edwin “I spotted those organizers here. Don’t attract attention, we will play low profile and follow them. They will lead us to our destination.”
Alan pulled Edwin’s arm and pointed towards a tree, Sana was seated under the tree, but before they could reach she was tranquilized by the searching team.
Edwin saw that the group was busy looking for other children and seized the opportunity to secretly carried Sana to his car.
“Alan here take my mobile phone and call Mr Harrow, he will send a police officer take Sana and you home. I will tail the organizers in my car. “
Edwin waited for the organizer to revv up their van and followed them through winding lanes and hilly plains till they reached an old decrepit mansion hidden behind dense foliage. The organisers unloaded the children from the van, they looked like limp plush toys being carried inside except for one who had already stirred and was resisting loudly.
“This must be Harrow Junior.”
Edwin advanced to follow them inside, then hesitated, it was dangerous to enter the lion’s den at this time,there were guards at every point. They could easily kill him or worst hurt the children, then he will never know what happened to the children.
He made his way back to his lab with a heavy heart.
Secret Hideaway -7.30pm
Sebastian voice reverberating against the moldy walls:
“Have you got all of them?”he asked scanning the children with his eagle eyes. “Weren’t there two more?”
They must have been lost in the forest…Spade Team is looking for them.”
“You worthless deck of rotten cards-”
“Anyway if they are dead they are of no use to us.”
“Are you all really scientists or ?
“Two children found dead will definitely be investigated. And this will lead them to us!!” he hollered. “Go find them and if they turn out dead dispose their bodies properly!!”
“Ace Sir…we for the one you wanted…the pesky one.” Heart threw in interrupting the flow of insults which followed.
“Ah place him in the superior suite and connect him to a monitor, he will be under constant supervision. Attach the electrode to record his brain waves too. ”
“Place the rest in the regular beds and administer the next shot of genetically engineered DNA by intravenous route.”
Edwin’s Lab- 8.00 pm
“Did you get any news of Gerard?” Jevin was pacing anxiously while waiting for Edwin in his lab, “The police could not get hold of anyone in the forest.”
Edwin told him how he saw him squirming and screaming while being transported and filled him in with the details Alan gave him.I did not confront them, the mastermind has a fleet of assistants, the entrance was heavily guarded by both guards and dogs.”
“Your niece has started regaining consciousness now. I gave her some water to drink”
“This is not looking good at all. The fact that he kidnapped the children mean there is more to it than meet the eyes.”
“I searched the marquee again and stumbled upon this ipad, maybe it was left by of the children or it might belong to the organizers.”
“I got the charger for this ipad, let me charger the battery.”
the moment they switched it on, a message appeared:
He scrolled above and gasped:
Carnaval Report Day 3 – Team Spades
Study group – children aged between 10 -15
Criteria: high glucose level in body prior to ingestion of genetically modified vector.
Characteristics developed: Prowess, Agility
Remarks: excessive aggressiveness noted.
“That’s some sick stuff!” exclaimed Edwin, “Those bastards were conducting some study with innocent children!”
“But study on what?”Harrow asked.
“We shall soon know.”replied Edwin
Edwin quickly took a blood sample from Sana. He centrifuged the blood and incubated it for five minutes to break down the blood cells.In the meantime he used his automated DNA Sequencer to yield the DNA sequence chromatogram.
“My doubt was right.This seems to be mutated DNA! They have spliced human DNA and added animal genes in between!”, exclaimed Edwin waving the sequence sheet in front of Mr Harrow.”
“So am guessing, the chocolate regularly given to the kids were laced with a vector carrying the genetically modified DNA.”
“But DNA take time to replicate and take time for gene expression, but Gerard already started exhibiting the effects!”
“Yes Gerard’s case is intriguing.”
“Gerard would eat three sweets daily.” Alan revealed, not mentioning the fact that the boy used to snatch his shares of chocolate. Somehow Gerard’s greed had saved Alan from this tribulations.
“Hmm they seem to be conducting an illegal genetic engineering along with an illegal study using innocent children as guinea pigs. Those bastards…”
“Yes they used the masquerade as cover and the candy eating competition to raise the glucose levels in the systems of the prospective study group. Then they gave them a fluid laced with the modified DNA. They couldn’t taste the fluid properly with their tastebuds having been accommodated
“But how come the DNA wasnt destroyed by the digestive enzymes.”
“They are sly scientists, they enclosed the DNA in a virus vector whose capsule could not be digested by the stomach juices, it went in their intestines and got absorbed in their bloodstream.”
“I will synthesise an enzyme which will break down the protein coat of the virus and lyse the DNA code it carries. We shall do a reverse gene mutation.”
He spent the whole night in his lab stringing together amino-acids to synthesise an enzyme which will specifically act on the mutated DNA
“I will snip out the mutated DNA and code it according to human DNA sequence.”
“You do that while I take my team and land at the monster’s den. Every passing minute is precious. God knows, how else they might be torturing those kids.”
Mr Harrow promptly sent a team of Police Officers to the Secret hideaway.
They were utterly shocked when they saw the state in which the children were. They were restrained to iron beds and were being injected with genetically engineered DNA. Gerard was still screaming in pain and trying to break the handcuffs which tied his hands to the bedpost, his head and chest was full of electrodes. Mr Harrow quickly went to release him.
They nabbed Sebastian and his whole team and busted his wicked plan.
“Now we shall do studies on you in jail.” Mr Harrow told him.
All of them were transported to the hospital for treatment. Edwin promptly reached there and injected the DNA he had engineered to reverse the mutation. After few weeks, the gene expression of the animal DNA had started subsiding.
“Candies anyone?” he asked them.
“NO!” the children answered in chorus.
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