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It’d been a week since Al almost died. He was back to normal now and seeing how much he’d missed out on the ‘fun’ activity of researching in my absence, I’d convinced him to look up more about the midnight man at the cyber cafe, while I went to play with the girl we’d tried to kill. Correction: were trying to kill.
But the Creator wasn’t playing today. Pragya had gone to visit a relative with her parents, and that left her just me to play with.
“Do I play that bad?”
“No- it’s just that-” she looked at me helplessly, like there was something she wasn’t supposed to say. Finally, she sighed and said- “I’ve got a stomach ache.”
I wondered what was so secretive about a stomach ache. “Oh-kay,” I said slowly. “I’ll get going then.”
“No!” she said suddenly and then composed herself. “I mean, um, why don’t we take a walk around the park? Daily physical activity’s pretty important, huh?” she chuckled nervously.
The Creator talked to me about her favourite TV show, Supernatural. She sounded a lot like Rennie fangirling over 3 Doors Down. She was the one who’d introduced the band to me, after all.
“-So apart from the general awesomeness, there are pretty compelling ideas that are introduced in the show as well. Like, you know, how demons are basically corrupted human souls.”
That caught my attention. Until then I’d barely been listening to her, throwing in the occasional ‘mm-hmm’ and ‘I see’ to show that I was listening.
“What did you say?”
The Creator seemed startled by this sudden interest. “‘Demons’ caught your ear, huh?”
“Corrupted human souls did the trick.”
“I see you’re a fan of the morbid, then. You are totally gonna love it.” She smiled and then continued-“According to Supernatural, a demon is created when a human soul goes to hell and endures so much torture there that it loses all its humanity. It turns into a dark, malevolent spirit that revels in pain, chaos and death. The things they see in hell, the things they go through- they’re enough to make them forget what it was like to be human or even that they were human once.”
I prodded her on. “What do they look like? Red-coloured monsters with a tail and horns?”
“Not at all. They don’t have a physical form, per se. They need to possess a human being to do anything. When they’re without a vessel, they’re just black smoke.”
“And they’re very powerful, yes?”
“Of course. Superhuman strength, telekinesis- you name it.”
“So then, how do the heroes of the show fight them?”
“There’s a sigil called the Devil’s Trap which makes them powerless. Salt and holy water hurt them pretty bad. And there’s also a special kind of ancient knife made by the Kurds which can kill demons.”
The Midnight Man had told me he wasn’t a demon. Not that he was such an Honest Abe, but the Devil’s Trap I’d drawn hadn’t worked on him. But what the Creator had described sounded a lot like him- black smoke, powerful. I figured he wasn’t completely a demon, but something like it.
As for an ancient Kurdish knife, there was little chance of me finding it. I could work with ‘corrupted human soul’. Plus, ‘Supernatural’ was simply a TV show. It was just a creation of some writer like ‘Grey Earth’ was- the only difference being that ‘Grey Earth’ existed. All of these things in Supernatural were just products of somebody’s imagination, but a lot of times, stories mimic reality. Who’d know better than me?
“I know, right? Wait till you hear about how Sam and Dean fake their names on their fake FBI IDs.” She looked sideways at me.
“Have you even been listening to me, Brad?” she sighed. “Ramkatha khatam ho gayi aur pooch rahe hain ki Ram kaun tha,” she said in Hindi. “Sam and Dean are the protags.”
“Oh. But why would their faked names be interesting?”
“Because they use rock singers’ names just like you do, Spruce.”
I stopped walking.
Holy shit on a shiitake.
“I’m sorry?” I managed to croak.
The Creator, who was a little ahead of me, turned to look. “I know who you are, Spruce Marlow.”
My throat went dry. My brain had abandoned me. For some reason, I could see the Creator’s brown eyes with alarming clarity. She was standing at least a foot away from me, but I could see myself reflected in them. Maybe that was just an illusion. I looked infinitely small in them.
She stepped closer and scrutinised me, as if not quite believing that I was real. “There is no ‘Global Young Chemists’ Tournament’. Also, Brad Arnold? I would’ve expected better from you, Spruce.”
Shit. I hadn’t expected 3DD to exist here as well. Brad Arnold was the lead singer.
“But how?” the Creator wondered aloud. “How can a character I write come to life?”
I finally found my voice. “I’m not Spruce Marlow, Agni.” My voice was still small. I cleared my throat. “I’m sure you’re making a mistake. Or maybe just messing with me. You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”
The Creator sighed dramatically. “Boy, you really don’t know when to cut the crap, do you?”
I remained quiet.
“Okay, let me convince you I’m not messing with you. When your dad overdosed on drugs and died, and you were ten, you licked some of the cocaine on his table just to try it.”
What the hell?
“Not even Al knows that- am I right?”
“You’re just blurting out random facts about your character.” I don’t know why I was still trying to defend myself. Clearly, she knew who I was.
“Then how do I know-” she grabbed hold of my right hand “-that you have a diagonal scar running through your rascette lines which is tilted at forty-five degrees?” She turned my hand around. The white scar on the inside of my wrist seemed clearer than ever.
She let go of my hand.
My tongue had gone numb. Defending myself any more would’ve been futile. The silence seemed to stretch endlessly.
“What gave me away?” I said finally.
The Creator smiled what can only be described as an evil smile. “I made you, Spruce. Do you expect me to not recognise you when you’re right in front of me?” She paused, her eyes never leaving my face. “At first, of course, I thought it was just a coincidence that I should meet a guy with the exact physical appearance of my character. After all, I hadn’t made you very handsome.” She chuckled.
“Even when I got to know you and I realised that even your personality was like Spruce’s, that even your best friend was called Al, I couldn’t believe that it was possible for a character to come to life. I’d taken a cue from Supernatural and written myself into the story, sure, but that was just for fun. I never thought such things could happen in real life. Not only you, but even ‘Alden’ was also exactly like Al. For a long time, I kept dismissing it as a coincidence.
“But then I realised I was being just how JK Rowling had described muggles- we’ll go to any lengths to disprove something that’s right in front of our eyes if it doesn’t fit our understanding. We’re desperate to dismiss anything we don’t understand. We crave for magic in our lives but ignore it when it’s right in front of us. And then I realised I was purposely being blind. You two were clearly Spruce and Al.”
Damn teenage girls who retain their childhood and believe in magic.
She suddenly came forward and hugged me. I patted her back awkwardly. “I’m sorry,” she said, pulling away, “I had a whole hour of screaming and jumping on my bed when I realised my characters were real, but I still can’t get over the fact that I’m actually meeting the people I wrote.” She puffed out her cheeks and blew out a huge breath. “My god.”
I smiled. “You’re doing quite well.”
“What I still don’t understand is,” she continued, “how can words on a paper come to life? How can what I imagined be real? And how can the products of my imagination… meet me?”
“Parallel universes?” I said cautiously. String theory might not be verified in this world.
“Even if I do accept that, how can there exist a parallel universe which is exactly what I wrote?”
“Well, there is an infinity of them.”
Why am I even having this conversation?
I told my nerdy self to shut up.
“Tell me something, Spruce. Did you or did you not lick cocaine at ten?”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
“Just tell me.”
I lowered my eyes and mumbled a ‘yes’.
“Did Rennie slap you or not when you first met her at nine-years-old because you and Al stole and drank her orange juice?”
I nodded slowly.
“Even if there is a parallel universe, how is it being controlled by me?”
I had no answer to that, and I told her so.
“Huh. I guess miracles do happen.”
A question had appeared in my mind. “You said you wrote yourself into the story.”
“What exactly did you write?”
She told me what she’d written. There was no mention of Rennie’s sacrifice, the labradorite stone or even the midnight man in her version. We did have some free will, after all. In her version, all three of us had gone to Mogu Bar where the bar specials had transported all of us to the real world and we’d eventually met her.
I felt the inevitable question coming.
“But I haven’t met Rennie yet. Where is she, Spruce?”