Inspector Sathi didn’t like night shifts. Many of the crimes were committed in the night and he didn’t like frequent calls on his time. It was raining outside when he saw the albino coming near the police station. Inspector Sathi was at the end of his fag—a one of many—till the night ended.
Complainants normally didn’t reach him. They were unusually disposed off by the head constable or the sub-inspector. He raised his eyebrows when his door opened and the albino came in.
He pressed the buzzer for the sub-inspector. When the head constable entered he looked at him.
“He wants to only meet you, sir,” said Dhondu.
“And you let him?”
Dhondu scratched his head looked at a spot behind the inspector.
Sathi turned to the albino and said, “So what is your problem?”
“My name is Vishnu Sahatrakar. I have been robbed.”
“Did you see the robber?”
“Of course, I also know where they live.”
Another dead-end case like so many. He would file an FIR and then get to it after loads of other cases were cleared.
“Tell the address,” said Sathi.
“Pinkaria mall, 1st level,” said the albino.
Blood rushed to Sathi’s head. He had felt lethargic but hearing the Mall’s name he came wide awake.
“Dhondu? Come here,” he shouted through the door. “Do you think we are fools?”
“No, sir,” said the albino.
“Then what’s this.” He tapped the file with his baton. “Your robbers live in a mall?”
“But yes it is sir. They stole all my ATM pins, netbanking passwords and credit card info.”
“They just took it.”
Sathi twirled the pen in his fingers. He looked at his watch. More than six hours till his shift ended.
“I can show you my bank account. Not even a single rupee is left,” said the albino.
Sathi called Subedar his sub-inspector, and told him to verify. After about a quarter of an hour Subedar reported that the complainant appeared genuine.
“Has the man left?” he asked Subedar.
“No sir. He says that he could take us there.”
Sathi sighed. He’d anyway would get bored in the next six hours. He’d just stretch his legs. The night was cool after a very hot day. He could use the fresh air.
“Ready the jeep,” said Sathi.
“You heard me. We are going to Pinkaria mall,” said Sathi.
The mall seemed deserted when they reached it. Sathi entered it brandishing his baton.
“Where are they?” he asked.
“First floor,” said Vishnu.
Sathi used the escalator. It stood still but started as he took a first step.
The place was deserted except for some people leaving after the midnight show.
“It is at the corner,” said Vishnu.
The board of Pikari toys glimmered as they rounded the corner.
“A toy shop?”
Sathi looked around but couldn’t see Vishnu. The door of the toy shop opened and he ascertained the faint shape of Vishnu going inside.
“Subedar? Dhondu? Where have these people gone?”
Sathi’s feet told him not to go but still he felt himself gravitating towards the toy shop.
Sathi couldn’t help himself. He slid towards the door. he willed his legs to not move. The red carpet on which he stood slid under him. it pulled him forward. He got through the door. the shop’s counter twinkled with lights. He put his baton on the glass counter.
A girl materialised in front of him. he didn’t see her enter. He looked back. Where were Subedar and Dhondu? And where was the complainant?
“I am here on a case. Robbery,” said Sathi.
“We don’t rob. They get robbed themselves.”
“So you agree,” said Sathi, “that you rob.”
Did he detect a faint hint of blackness in her teeth? He wasn’t sure.
“We can give you a deal to drop the case. It will be a deal of a lifetime,” said the girl.
“First I got to find my people.”
“Your people are being taken care of magnificiently.”
Sathi’s stomach rumbled. Somehow the girl’s violet hair and green lipstick was making him nauseous. The twinkling lights added to his exacerbation.
“Are you ill, inspector?”
“We have a pill which could cure all your illnesses in one go.”
“Then a gift. We need to be generous to the police. The ever grabbing criminalised police. Criminals in uniform.”
“Watch your tongue girl!”
“That’s why a gift is so necessary,” she said twirling her hair.
“I want my men,” said Sathi. He couldn’t believe the pleading tone which had crept up in his voice.
“All in time inspector. All in time.”
He looked away from her. she looked large, as if her head had swollen.
The bell beside her head jingled twice.
“Good inspector, we are ready to go. Your men are done with.”
“I want to go away.”
Sathi turned his face towards the door. It beckoned but he couldn’t move his feet towards it. He moved his hand and it moved. He reached out for the revolver in his holster.
“Uh oh. It’s time is not yet,” said the girl. “But if you insist, you can keep it. But don’t play with it.”
The girl pushed the door.
“Welcome inspector, to the hall of illusions,” she said. “I didn’t tell you my name. I am Mistress Illusia. The hall has a lot of my inputs. But sorry to say that it isn’t my sole brainchild.”
Like a blade cutting into skin, Sathi was through the door.
“Good, that you accepted my invitation.”
Then he was inside like a knife searing through butter.
“Don’t you feel warm?” asked Illusia.
“No,” said Sathi.
His hands could move. His feet could move.
He had felt a certain amount of freezing of his hands and feet, but the freezing had gone off. He lifted the gun and levelled it at Illusia.
“Oh my goddamn. You are free. I didn’t expect this to happen,” she said.
“Where are my men?”
“Don’t shoot me,” she said. “I’ll do whatever you ask.” She winked.
Sathi’s hand went limp and fell to his side. His fingers unclenched and the revolver clanged to the floor.
“Don’t shoot me,” she said. She winked.
Sathi’s knees gave way. He knelt.
Something elemental came to him. Something in the start of fear.
When he came to, Dhondu stood over him.
“I killed her,” said Dhondu.
In Dhondu’s hand was a dagger dripping blood. Illusia lay on the ground her left eye a bloody smear.
“Witch!” said Sathi.
“Get Subedar,” said Sathi. “Fast.”
Dhondu scampered away.
Sathi kicked Illusia.
“Bitch! Bad that you died too soon. Otherwise I would have shown you the repercussions for messing with the law.”
Involuntarily his hand went to the holster.
A bullet should teach that bitch, he thought.
A bullet should.
But his revolver was no longer in his holster. He had dropped it. He looked around the girl but couldn’t find it. he searched but he couldn’t find it.
What could be more certain than grieving with your eyes open. The grief which comes in waves could only come in small measures. Only if he could find the door. A door which would lead him away and beyond.
Away and beyond.
He would have stopped stark without a hint of further prodding. But he didn’t.
“You killed her,” the old man said.
“Who are you?” said Sathi.
“I am Illluson, her father. Wait what I will do to you now.”
He raised his hand. But Sathi was quicker. Sathi launched himself at Illuson and began throttling him.
“Nooo!” cried the old man.
Sathi increased the pressure. Sathi paid no heed to the nails of Illuson digging in his wrists. He kept applying pressure till he old man’s hands grew limp. Sathi withdrew his hands and Illluson crumpled to the floor.
Sathi’s hands shook from the exertion. He could kill not just by weapons but with his bare hands too. He puffed up his chest motioning his hands here and there. He was invincible.
His legs gave a tick. It became a very bad tick. With all the various things in his head, he could make anything suck.
Sathi had squatted beside the old man with his hand on his heart. Sathi stood up.
“You killed the old man too?”
“Yes,” said Sathi.
“But he was the doorway,” said Subedar.
Subedar morphed into a dagger and then into the girl. Dhondu morphed into a doorway and then into Illuson. The bodies on the floor morphed into Dhondu and Subedar—their khaki uniforms splattered with blood.
“No.No.No…,” said Sathi.
Sathi’s knees gave way and he covered his face with his hands.
“It won’t go away inspector,” said Illusia. “Why are you so afraid of your gift? It takes some time to prepare the gift. Do you need gift wrapping?”
“You wanted your men inspector. So there they are,” said Illusia.
“I want to get out,” said Sathi.
Illusia’s green lips turned blood red. Her dazzling smile grew crooked with mottled teeth filling them. The teeths grew into fangs. Her hands turned to feathery wings and topped with green claws.
The old man grew different in ways like Illusia. His clothes got ripped as he burst through them. His mouth became a snout and his legs spindly thin their edges razor sharp.
Sathi’s hand grew heavy. His palm had the gun. He levelled it at them.
“No, no,” said Illusia, “you are being hasty.” Spittle dripped from her mouth.
Sathi squeezed the trigger. He kept squeezing till his gun emptied out. With every bullet they grew larger.
He flung the gun at them and shouted,
“I want to get out!”
“First bring your superintendent of police,” said Illusia. An array of light disturbed the darkness.
Behind Sathi a door opened.
Bio: I am an Engineer by circumstance and writer by choice. I work in Engineering in Mumbai. I started writing short stories when in college, and have just now completed my first novel. My fiction genres include, horror, fantasy, political thrillers & historical. I am looking out for a publisher at present and working on my second book.