“Breathe In and breathe out. Slowly. As the oxygen gushes down your system, feel the cool breeze enter through your nostrils and spread its magic to each part of your body. Let every cell feel alive by the zephyr of freshness. Try to converge your thoughts to a single focal point and harmonize them like a melody. Let your soul be enlightened.”
The words of his Guru rang in his mind as he sat cross-legged, with palms open and rested on his knees, just a few feet away from the edge of the mountain cliff.
He opened his eyes gently, ‘Wow! What a marvel to behold! Mother Nature never ceases to surprise us.’
He was spellbound by the abundance of flora in the alpine mountains. The waterfalls cascading down the steep boulders danced to the calm winds, forming beautiful rainbows amidst the greenery. The valley beneath was covered in a bed of lavender flowers. The pristine clear, cerulean sky with a tinge of tangerine hues added to the beauty of the scenery. While losing himself in the artistry of nature and finally feeling at peace, he startled, as a sudden gush of noises emerged from somewhere.
Run, sprint, jump, fly.
He looked around anxiously, but not a soul was nearby. He paused for a minute and returned to revel in the wonderful moment.
Soon, a large murmuration of birds caught his attention. They fluttered, swayed, and danced in patterns. As the flock came closer, he realized he had never seen such majestic birds. With long beaks, enormous wings, and colorful feathers, they resembled the mythical phoenix.
The birds flew in circles surrounding the mountain peak.
Is this a calling? Are the birds indicating something to me?
The birds made formations in the sky that read J A Y.
Jay? Me? He was more horrified than surprised.
He leaned forward for a better view when the flock's leader suddenly turned his gaze toward him. A stare that pierced through his soul and made him cringe in terror.
The bird deviated from the hills and dashed at lightning speed in his direction. His members followed suit. Soon, the winged beasts encircled him and fluttered their militant wings. The soft chirps metamorphosed into wild roars.
Could birds talk?
Run, sprint, jump, fly. Muttering these words, the birds pushed, pulled, and plucked at Jay with their sharp beaks. Wincing in pain and sprinting along, he found himself at the tip of the cliff. The scenery was no longer heavenly. It seemed straight out of a horror movie. The tone of the atmosphere changed. A deep sense of pain, despair, and fright consumed his heart. To save himself from the dread of the birds, he jumped from the cliff.
A profound cry left his lungs as his frame fell deeper and deeper into the valley, which was becoming darker like a never-ending tunnel. Finally, the free fall came to a halt as he banged onto the hard rocks beneath.
Steadily, the excruciating pain spread from his bones to his skin. He felt his soul bidding farewell to his body. Reluctantly, he pulled his hand to his face and wiped it.
No blood? It wasn't red, just droplets of sweat. He immediately sat upright and wiped his face with his shirt.
A nightmare! Jay sighed. He stretched his arms and stood up to touch his toes. Then, holding his hips, he bent right and left to ease his muscles as he looked around.
Where am I? Is this another dream sequence, like they show in the movies? Jay pinched himself, Ouch! Not a dream.
He found himself in a tiny blue room. It had large blue walls. No windows. Just a single cot and a desk formed the sparse furniture. There was a blue commode in one corner. He closed his eyes with his palms, trying to recollect the turn of events that got him here. But in vain.
Gradually, he felt the various neurons in his brain tangle themselves into puzzles, drawing him deeper into a maze. Finally, unable to bear the cacophony of colors and sounds in his mind, he opened his eyes and walked towards the door. From the meshed pinhole, he saw a vacant corridor and an array of rooms on either side.
Am I in prison? How can it be?
He turned back to find a familiar-looking bag on the desk. Jay hustled towards it, unzipped it, and scattered the belongings on the desk. The bag had bundles of cash and a few souvenirs from various travel adventures. He scoured through the stuff to find a photo. Waves of emotions dashed through his face.
Oh, my love! Priya.
The photo was of his fiancée, Dr. Priya. Looking at the image, he reminisced about their shared unforgettable moments and various romantic escapades. Loud, crazy noises jolted him from his reverie.
He flipped the picture to find a route map of the hospital she worked in.
But why am I imprisoned? What harm did I do to anyone?
He ransacked through the bag further to find pages of a manuscript that looked like an in-depth report. He scanned through the pages.
Ah! There it is—the CIA. They must have schemed this horrific plan. All for throwing light on the shortcomings and corruption within the system. They will not be able to break me. I will reveal their true face to the world. But, first, I need to get out of this place.
Jay stormed towards the door and banged it hard.
“Get me out, You scoundrels. Nothing can stop me from unveiling your true identity. Release me.”
The walls seemed to narrow in on him. He banged and kicked the door until a khaki-clad man with a protruding belly opened it.
“Chala, raanget yaa!” the man barked.
“What are you saying? Is it some cryptic code language?”
Irritated, the man held Jay’s arm. Jay extracted himself from his grip and ran to the desk, tucking away the picture of Priya and some money in his pocket.
The man in uniform dragged him out and barked at him to stand in a queue with other men. Were they inmates? Jay realized that this place did not seem like a usual prison. Something was off about the people here. They seemed to display extreme behaviors; some were visibly drawn back and looked dull, while others were hyperactive and picked on others.
Are they drugged? Jay wondered to himself.
In any case, he needed to escape. With such tight security, it seemed impossible to run away just like that. So Jay took note of every corner, turn, and room in the place.
One afternoon, they were escorted in rows for lunch, and then to the washroom.
Jay locked himself in one of the toilets and climbed over the commode to glance from the vent. There was just a meter’s distance between the toilet and the fenced wall. The vent was made of four layers of glass placed diagonally. Slowly, he picked them up one by one and put them on the ground without making any noise.
With his petite frame, it was easier for him to climb out of the open vent. He jumped onto the passage and climbed up the walls. The thorned fence tore his clothes, and he bled from the scratches therein.
He looked at the picture from his pocket, the smiling face of Priya telling him to Run, sprint, jump and fly into his arms.
Jay managed to run across the lane that opened into the highway. He dragged along the road, looking back a few times to be cautious to check if nobody was following him.
Soon, he reached a cross-section and started asking around for a ride. But no vehicle stopped for a man who looked creepy.
Finally, an autorickshaw stopped. The driver looked suspiciously at him. Jay showed him the money he had in his pockets.
“I can pay you. Just take me to this address,” he showed the map to the driver.
“No, boss. I cannot take you so far. From Thane, Andheri is like on the other end of the city. I won't get a passenger on my return journey. But I can drop you at the metro station in Ghatkopar. Is that okay?”
Jay thought for a second but agreed and boarded the auto.
He closed his eyes and breathed hard to calm his mind.
“Ripples and waves
Dance in my heart
Anxiety or angst
Call it a farce
A cloudless me, I will be
Once we meet, alas.
Oh, Priya! Your magnetic almond dove eyes – nectar to this lonely bee.”
Jay smiled and opened his eyes. The driver was staring at him from the rearview mirror.
Oh! I must have blurted aloud. Suddenly a thought crossed his mind. Am I being followed? Maybe the driver is one of them.
“How far?” Jay shouted.
“A few more kilometers.”
Jay’s eyes were vigilant. What if they find and arrest me? Or shoot me dead. I need to meet Priya first. Hope they haven't done anything to her yet.
The rickshaw came to a halt. Even before the driver could read the meter, Jay threw a reasonable sum at the driver and ran inside the metro station.
Dashing through the crowd of people around, claustrophobia set in, as face after face reeled over him.
Some laughing, some concerned glances, while the rest were blank gazes. They made him nervous. It was as if they were mocking him.
The digital board at the platform read Andheri. As the train chugged in, Jay rushed into a compartment. He looked around anxiously. As he got down at Andheri station, he took out his fiancée’s picture. Tracking down the route, he reached the gates of the hospital.
The wail of the ambulance sent chills down his spine. Fidgeting, he ran towards the casualty ward. He barged into the glass doors as the security guards whistled and followed him. He reached the reception desk, frightening the nurses there,
“Where is Dr. Priya? I have to meet her immediately.”
“She is with a patient. You will have to wait,” a nurse tried to calm him down.
“No, No. I cannot wait. Call her now or tell me where to find her. I will go and meet her.”
“Sorry, Sir. I cannot allow that.”
Jay pushed the nurse aside and rummaged through the sterile instruments at a nearby table. He picked up a long sharp scissors and threatened the guards with it, who had now surrounded him.
“Don't come near me. I know who you are. Come out of your disguise. You cannot stop me. I will tell the truth to everyone,” he barked.
Priya came running down to the scene.
A spark of light lit up in Jay’s face. He hugged Priya tight, “My love! I am back. We will build a peaceful life far away from all this chaos. Come, let's leave. And don't call the cops this time. They are also with the CIA. Let’s straightaway connect with the media and bombard social media with the facts I have gathered. That's the only way these demons can be punished, and we will be set free.”
Priya pulled away from his tight clutches, “Stop it! You are hurting me.”
“Sorry, Priya. Once this is sorted out, we will get married in Jaipur as planned. And…”
“Marry? Stop it, Anirudh.”
“Anirudh?” Jay looked puzzled. “What is wrong with you, Priya? Who is Anirudh?”
“You are, dear. Please give me the scissors. Sit down and listen to me. Let me help you,” Priya signaled to the nurse, who carried a pill and a glass of water.
“Take this. You will feel better.”
“What is this, Priya? Have you joined hands with them? Oh no! All this while, I was under the impression that you loved me. But it seems the whole universe has conspired against me now. How could you do this to me, Priya?” Jay brandished the scissors at her.
In a calm and composed voice, Priya whispered, “Anirudh, look. I will explain.”
“I am Jay. Call me Jay, you bloody traitor!”
“Okay, Jay. Firstly, I am not your fiancée. Please keep the scissors down now.”
“Don't come closer, Otherwise….”
“Okay. That’s it. Your name is Anirudh Raman. You are a renowned bestselling author. Look,” she flipped her cell phone open and showed him pictures from his social media handles.
“You have penned some of the finest novels of our times. Your latest work is a bestseller.”
She showed him the cover picture of that book. It read – Run, Sprint, Jump, Fly!
Jay could not believe his eyes.
“No, that's not true. This is just your plan to make me look insane. The CIA’s plan is to finish me off. If I were Anirudh, why can't I remember anything? And you, my fiancée, my love, seem to be so cold about it.”
Priya sighed, “I am your doctor.” She displayed her identity card – Dr. Priya, Head of Psychiatry.
She continued, “A few months ago, you were diagnosed with schizophrenia. In fact, you started impersonating the characters from your novels. If you stay medicated, such episodes will reduce. Why do you think we had to confine you to an institute? You did not comply with us. And you went a step further. You encashed most of your savings from your bank and ran away. After a major manhunt, the cops were able to track you. But you wouldn’t let go of your bag and belongings. So, they just let it be. ”
“Stop it. So you are, in fact, with the CIA.”
“Anirudh, this is Mumbai. CIA works in the USA. You are just imagining yourself as Jay, a journalist from your book who takes on the corrupt CIA agents.”
“No, no, how is it possible?” Anirudh's fingers trembled and drops of sweat ran down his temples.
Priya walked closer and showed him more images from her mobile phone.
“See your earlier book – The Phoenix Flight. It is a self-help book with tools and techniques to meditate efficiently.” She read out a line, “Breathe in and breathe out. Slowly!”
“Hey, Stoppp. No playing tricks with my mind. Did you place a chip in my brain to read my dreams, huh? If you want to prove me crazy, I wouldn’t let you do that. Never, you get me? Neverrr.”
Anirudh turned and charged toward the gate. But the security chased him and pushed him to the ground. The nurse immediately injected him with a sedative.
With a heavy head, Anirudh opened his eyes, feeling groggy. What was the throbbing pain? He looked around. The same bed. The same blue walls. He dipped his hand in his pocket. The picture of Priya with the route map to her hospital, and some money were still with him. He fell unconscious again.
A cool breeze hit his skin. He pried his eyes open. He was amidst the heavenly view of the mountains and the serene landscape. Breathe in and breathe out. Slowly! A voice murmured nearby. He looked around. Not a soul was in sight. He was just a few meters away from the edge of the cliff.
He felt a stirring behind him. He turned. A huge bird, resembling the Phoenix, held the collar of his shirt from its majestic beak. He opened his mouth to scream, but not a sound emerged. All he could hear was Run, Sprint, Jump, Fly!
- Chala, raanget yaa – “Come, stand in the line/queue” in Marathi
- CIA – Central Intelligence Agency, the first line of Defence for the United States of America.
Team: Wordsmiths Trailblazers
Prompt: Your MC returns from a break to find a map, some money, and a photo of their fiance on their desk.
Word Count: 2572
Picture Credit: Erik Eastman on Unsplash