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“Dude, we need to shag ass,” Al said.
It wasn’t something one usually heard from him- he was all for fighting back and not running away cowardly.
“I woke up covered in them, man!” Al flapped his hands. “Those disgusting little brown fiends with their hairy legs and poky antennae and shelly shells. They’re-”
“Insects, Al. You could crush them with your hands. Besides, ‘shelly’ is not an adjective, never mind you using it to describe a shell.”
“Seriously, Spruce? This is the time you choose to go Grammar Nazi on me?”
“Look, man, you had that freaky nightmare about your mom dying, I woke up covered in roaches-”
“Hallucinated that you woke up covered in roaches.”
“-who knows what this midnight asshole will cook up next? Maybe you’ll see 3 Doors Down’s each and every album wiped from the world, maybe I’ll-”
“Leave 3DD out of this,” I said sternly.
“All I’m saying is, let’s do our job and get the hell out of here. You said the nightmare felt real, right? Like you could see your mom dying in front of you and could just reach a hand out and yank her back?”
“Well, the roaches felt real to me too, and I have a bad feeling this SOB won’t stick to dreams too long. So just-”
“You don’t need to convince me, Al.”
“What?” Al was still in rant mode, with his voice a bit too high and his eyes a bit too wide.
“I know what we need to do, and I will do it.”
Al was quiet for a moment.
“So you will kill the Creator and not go crazy this time?”
In the end, we’d decided that Al should be the one to do it. Despite my initial affirmation and Al’s argument that the protag does the ‘big’ things, I’d chickened out. I was, of course, assisting the murder, but I couldn’t be the one to do the murder.
Initially, I’d been naïvely hoping that the Creator had drunk the botox water and died so that we didn’t have to go through the whole killing process again. Although, as I knew very well and probably Al did too, the bigger reason for that hope was so that I could at least take comfort in the fact that I’d tried to save her.
But of course the Creator was alive.
And of course we were now sneaking into her house at the crack of dawn.
Al had wanted to use the castor beans, but I’d insisted on potassium chloride, not because of my little adventure at Bal Bharati Public School, but because the midnight man, if he was still haunting us, was expecting us to use castor beans since they were a more potent poison. And he would mess it up.
He could mess up the potassium chloride too, but at least we’d have the element of surprise.
We crept up the stairs. Only thieves climb in from windows. And get caught.
The Sun hadn’t come out properly yet, so all the residents were peacefully snoring in their beds. We’d have to work fast before one of the early risers came down the stairs for their morning walk or whatever and demanded to know who we were.
Murderers usually did their jobs in the safety of the midnight but for us, that time was anything but safe. Daylight murder was not an option, so dawn was the best.
The Creator lived on the apartment at the left on the first floor of the multi-storeyed building. I’d never been inside her house, but she would wave to me from her balcony and shout that she was ‘coming down in two minutes’ whenever she was late for badminton.
I set to work.
I took out my lockpick from my back pocket. My mom had given it to me on my seventh birthday. Contrary to most parents, my dad was the one who hid the cookies and locked them up. I’d always been a chubby kid until I became an iron-badge warrior at eleven, so he was extra concerned about my health. Mom and I had always been partners in crime, and she’d gifted me that lockpick to help me get at the cookies. She reasoned that combat training was sufficient to maintain my health, and why should one miss the few good things in life just because of a few curves? She’d been pretty liberal like that, my mom.
Years of cookie-stealing had made me quite the expert in lockpicking. I put the little metal pen in the keyhole of the cream-painted iron gate and pressed the red button at the back. Iron was easy- its resonance frequency was pretty easy to recognise and match. And then there was the extra bonus of it being magnetic. I activated the lockpick’s electromagnet and the lock disengaged with a satisfying click.
The inner door was a little more difficult to crack. It was wooden, and it took me some trial and error to find its exact resonance frequency. Al constantly whispering in my ear to hurry up didn’t help either.
It did put cracks in the wood, but the door didn’t open. I readjusted the frequency and tried again, but the door remained locked. I was missing something.
I turned on the little light at the end of the lockpick and examined the crack between the door and the wall.
At once, I found what I’d been missing- the door was wooden, but the locking mechanism was mainly metal. And it wasn’t iron.
I’d resonated the wooden notch in the doorframe and cracked it, but it hadn’t pushed out the metal bolt that was slotted inside it. There was only one thing to do.
I turned on the aerator on the pick. It basically sucked in air from the surroundings and pumped it out at high pressure in the tiny region where you positioned it. I set it in the notch and after a couple of minutes of being exposed to such high pressure in such a tiny area, the bolt finally gave in. It was blown back into the unlocked position.
Simple but clever, the aerator.
Cautiously, I pushed the door open, wincing when it creaked.
I opened it just enough for me and Al to slide in one by one since I couldn’t risk opening it all the way and advertising our breaking and entering through its unhelpful creaks.
The door opened into the peach-painted living room of the house, the wall directly in front of us covered in golden striped wallpaper and adorned with an LED television. A paisley-patterned maroon carpet in the middle was surrounded on three sides by cream-coloured sofas, all of them pointing towards the TV. A glass table with colourful marbles inside it was at the centre of the carpet.
It was quite a spacious living room, with the left side opening into the balcony and the right dominated by fancy crockery and trophies on a cupboard. There was even room for a dining table and chairs beside where we were standing, which was adjacent to the kitchen door. I counted three rooms in all- one directly opposite to where the TV wall turned a corner and ended, one on the right side beside the trophy cupboard, and another perpendicular to it.
Quite a nice apartment for a supervillain.
I took one look at the doors of the rooms and instantly knew the Creator’s room was the one opposite to the corner of the TV wall. That’s because a sign printed on an A4 sized sheet was taped to it- ‘No stupid beyond this point.’
Guess no one was obeying that sign today.
I slowly turned the doorknob, Al following me inside. That door creaked too, but the Creator was fast asleep, snuggled up in a purple blanket with the air conditioner set to 25⁰C.
Al first brought out the chloroform bottle he’d bought the previous day and stained a handkerchief with it. He’d reasoned that the prick of the needle would wake the Creator, so it was necessary to have her absolutely unconscious. He placed it firmly over her nose and mouth and held it there for around five minutes. Unlike movie portrayals, chloroform couldn’t knock out a person instantly.
The Creator’s room was a pleasant powder blue with a large window on the left wall whose upper part was occupied by the air conditioner, with a couple of small potted plants on the windowsill. Adjacent to the window was a closet built into the wall. The wall on the right was completely occupied by a bookcase whose upper half was transparent, displaying a sizeable collection of novels. The lower half was opaque and double-doored. The wall directly in front of me and behind the bed was plastered with posters depicting people from her favourite books and movies and a couple of hand-drawn sketches signed ‘Agni’ with a little flame drawn as the tittle of the ‘i’.
Al took out the syringe filled with potassium chloride and tested it. When he was satisfied, he turned to me and started to say something, but I knew what he was going to say. I nodded and stepped out of the room.
Leaning against the wall, I reminded myself of my midnight man-induced nightmare. I reminded myself of my mom’s death.
She did that.
I reminded myself of my dad’s dead body splayed out on his bed like some kind of a morbid Michelangelo painting, heroin syringes and sleeping pills scattered on his bedside table.
She did that.
I reminded myself of Rennie’s note and Mrs Whittaker’s tear-streaked face.
She did that.
I reminded myself of the daily news reports and weekly body counts, detailing how many warriors had been lost fighting the mutants, how many weapons developers were dying because of regularly working with radioactive elements, how many little children had lost their mothers and fathers.
She did that.
I reminded myself of how she took pleasure in all of that.