Why I Prefer the Dark



A boy recalls his story of getting mind-reading abilities and his relationship with the darkness.
Reading time: 59 minutes.


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Chapter One - The Mind Reader


It was dark. Peaceful and comfortable. I liked it there, but it hadn't always been the same.

As a kid, I was too scared of the dark, never slept with lights off because I was afraid that an arm with sharp, long fingers would stretch out from any of those ghastly shadows or those dense, tenebrous corners and drag me into their endless world of fear and trauma. I was always concerned about not drinking anything before I went to bed so I would not have to wake up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. And yet, it did not do any good. On many of those silent nights, I woke up thirsty, but the kitchen was much closer than the bathroom from my bedroom, so it went a little too good until I turned ten.

That year when the summer holidays were just about to start, my mother and my little brother decided to visit my mother's parents, leaving me, my father, and the feeling that it would be a little more lonely in the house. There was nothing to worry about in the daytime, but my fear would rise inversely proportional as the sun went down. As the darkness approached, I would turn ON every last light in the house, crawl into my bed, and wait for my father to come from work. His scolding about leaving the lights ON never bothered me, not more than the unknown sinister of the dark.

I was not sure why I feared the darksome so much. Maybe because it engulfs you. And you don't know where to look for monsters and gleaming yellow-red eyes. All you do is hear. You hear those voices your parents told you that it's just in your head, but a part of you knows it's real. Someone or something is calling out your name. Whispers; that you can't sleep with just having imagined them. Whispers; that can give you chills in mid-June or break a sweat on a freezing night in December, and sometimes, both.



One such torrid evening, I was in my bed with every light ON, waiting for my father. And with my bad luck, happened the last thing I ever wanted. Our whole block had a power cut! I froze in fear! It was not like something came running at me, so my reflexes could get time to analyze the situation and act in response. It was like it happened in yocto-seconds. It was as if someone had injected pounds of adrenaline into my bloodstream. My heart stopped. I was instantly sent to my worst nightmare; nigritude. I could feel every last cell of my body shaking in horror. It was the hottest week of the month, and here I was, shivering like a lamb. I couldn't see anything. It was uttermost black as if nothing else was there in the out-and-out universe except the bed I was sitting on. I waited...holding down my breath, for something creepy to happen, but no monster jumped me. Nothing crawled from under my bed, and no yellow-red evil eyes blinked. I had barely got hold of my senses when I heard it.

'Vijay!'

It was like a slow, dreamy female voice with no apparent source calling someone. I felt chills down my spine.

"It's in my head. It's in my head." I tried to calm myself down but shuddered when I heard it again.

'Viijaay....'

Whose voice was this, and who was it calling to? Who was this Vijay? Before I could even think of anything stupid and muster enough strength to do it, I felt something slipping on my skin. It was cold and porous. Once again, I heard it.

'Vijay!'

Then I realized that 'something' was the darkness, and it was all over me. I was covered in a dark, dense, dead, and cold substance.

"That voice! Is it...darkness? Is it my darkness??" I asked myself as I was bathing in the darkness.

Suddenly, I realized I was no longer shivering or scared of the dark anymore. I was feeling calm deep inside and out. I wondered if that was my fear itself being released. Do we all have our darkness inside us, which needs a perfect opportunity to sneak out? I didn't remember what happened next. All I knew for sure was that I was fast asleep in my bed before we had powers back and before my father came home.



All I remembered was that I had woken up the following morning with a loud buzzing aching my head as if a swarm of flies hovered around me. I looked for the source but didn't see any bees flying around. Hell, I didn't find a single bee or fly in my house the whole morning. Though I heard a few words echoing, sometimes with the sound of buzzing, whenever I crossed or went close to my father.

'LATE! OFFICE! BREAKFAST!'

I couldn't make anything out of it. When I left for school, the sound followed me everywhere I went. I realized it was in my head. There was no doubt about it having to do something with the previous night. I entered my classroom, and a whole river of words flooded my head.

'THERE HE IS!'

'HE'S SO CUTE!'

I didn't see any lips moving, just the blank faces, but I could still hear.

'DUMB ASS!'

'HERE'S THE SKINNY!'

I walked past everyone to the last bench and sat there expressionless but thinking. I couldn't tell what I felt more, surprise or shock. I could think clearly despite the loud buzzing and words floating around my head. It all made sense, the buzzing, those random words. I knew what I was doing unintentionally but had no goddamn idea how I was doing it. During the class, our Social-Science teacher seemed focused on the first civilization, the dawn of the modern world, to everybody else, but only I knew that she was worried about her ill husband at home. The English teacher was thinking about lunch. His stomach teemed with hunger three times during the class. There was this girl on my left, thinking I would turn and look at her once, and the boy beside me hadn't completed his homework and was afraid of the punishment. I couldn't concentrate on my classes that day. I sat on the last seat of my school bus on my way back home and thought about what was happening to me. This ability, was it a reward? A prize you get when you face your worst fear. I suffered through my nightmare and came out victorious. I was no longer afraid of the dark.

It took me a few weeks to get used to it and deal with the buzzing, but life became much easier later. I could answer all of my teacher's questions. I could know what people were going to say before they said it. I knew what they thought of me.

'YOU'RE SO SWEET!'

"Thanks for the compliment," I would say.

I would often say things that would surprise people, and sometimes I just enjoyed the scenario. "I know you just killed me in your mind."

I was walking and talking 'Lie Detector'. I optimized the level of fun and invented a mind game of my own. "Think of any number or word."

'FORTY-SEVEN! FORTY-SEVEN! FORTY-SEVEN'

"Forty-seven."

"What the—! How did you—?"



Life was fun. Five years passed, and I became popular with the name 'The Mind Reader'. I was dating the most beautiful girl in my high school. Everything was great, but things took a nasty turn. It happens with all of us just when we think everything is perfect and nothing can go wrong. When it's a beautiful sunny day. But suddenly, clouds gather around in the sky, and it starts to rain. When a defeated enemy returns to invade stronger than ever. My dreadful enemy, my worst nightmare, returned one night. I didn't have a clue why it only happened that very night. It was not like I had never slept in complete darkness in those five years or all alone in the house. It was not that we never had a power cut again.

It was almost midnight. I was asleep in my bedroom when I felt a presence. I woke up and opened my eyes wide in the blanket. The feeling that someone is in your bedroom is just uncomfortable, but it terrifies you when you are alone. I stayed there, not blinking, not even breathing. I thought that it was a burglar. I thought to let him get anything he wanted and leave. If he found out I was awake, it would be my end. So I acted as if I was in my dreamy world. I was waiting for him to leave when I heard that voice again for the first time in five years.

'Vijay!'

I jumped. So did my heart. I sat upright, sweating, breathing heavily, and terrified by what I had just heard. There was no one else in the room. Once again, I felt just the way I felt as a kid. The fear came back. I felt like somehow I time-travelled to five years ago, but not even I could've imagined what I heard next.

'Don't be scared! I'm not gonna hurt you.'

Despite what the voice had just said, I shivered down my spine. I don't know what gave me a voice to my words when I asked, "Who are you?"

'I'm yourself,' the voice replied.

"What does that even mean?" I asked in a trembling voice.

'Well—I'm a part of you.'

"You—you are in my head?"

'Indeed.'

What the hell was happening to me?

'Relax. We need to talk, but you need to rest right now. Go to sleep,' the voice tried to calm me down.

I was still shaking, but I gathered enough strength to reply, "How am I supposed to sleep with a freaking voice in my head?"

'If that's your issue, I'll be quiet while you sleep. I can make you calm down.'

"How?" I asked.

'Let's say I have control over your involuntary actions.'

I tried to ask, but somebody just flipped my lights out. I felt like I was drugged. I didn't wake up until I heard it again the following morning.



'Wake up! It's time. Get ready.' The voice instructed me like my mother, and I followed like an obedient son. We (Yes, We) went to a nearby park, I sat on the bench until noon, and we talked. I asked questions, and the voice in my head answered.

"So when I was forced to face my fear, something was triggered in my mind."

'Yes,' she said.

"Then what triggered you?"

'Nothing. I was always here, trying to talk to you, but you didn't listen. You couldn't hear me, I suppose.'

"So, how can I hear you now?"

'Your abilities are growing. You've been listening to people's thoughts. Now you are listening to your own thoughts.'

"I'm using my ability on myself," I realized.

It was creepy. Listening to my thoughts as another person. My very own mind, talking to me.

"So, who are you exactly?" I asked.

'I'm a part of your consciousness. Your subconscious.'

When I said it was creepy, it was an understatement. It sure went far beyond creepy. My subconscious had its own consciousness.

"You said last night that we needed to talk," I asked. "What is it?"

'It's about you.'

"What about me?"

'You have to stop reading people's minds. It's dangerous.'

"What?" I propelled. "Are you kidding? Stop doing the only thing I'm good at? You know that everything I have today, everything I am, is because of my ability! And you are saying that I should stop doing it!"

'Yes,' she replied.

"Why? Why now?" I asked

'Your mind is growing, and it is growing immensely fast. Soon you'll be able to get deeper into people's minds which, I am afraid, is very dangerous. You might get lost inside the loury meander forever, or even if you can ever get out somehow, you will not be the same person anymore,' she explained.

"You are not making any sense. Do you have any idea what would happen to me, to my life, if I stop doing it?" I inquired.

'Listen to me, Vijay. Minds are very complicated and dangerous. Your mind is complicated enough, let alone the others.'

"You listen to me, uh—I don't even know what to call you. You wouldn't be here telling me to stop in the first place had I not had this ability, so I am not even considering your advice, 'my subconscious'!" I cleared my intentions. "And why do you call me Vijay anyway?"

'Oh! You don't remember!'

"Remember what?" I asked. But before I received an answer, my cell phone tinkled. It was a text alert. I drew out my cell phone and looked at the screen; it was from Neha, my girlfriend. She wanted to talk to me. I replied, asking if she could come to the coffee shop two blocks away and received an affirmative text almost instantly. I started walking towards the coffee shop. Since I couldn't talk out loud without looking like an idiot, I asked inside my head. 'HEY! YOU THERE?'

I heard nothing.

'HEY, SUBCONSCIOUS!' I asked again, 'REMEMBER WHAT?'

'We'll talk about this later.'

This pissed me off.

"NO!" I, instead of thinking inside my head, bawled out loud, "WE'RE GONNA TALK ABOUT THIS N—" I walked past a little boy who jumped, looked at me scared, turned, and ran away from me.

"Okay," I sighed.

I should've been glad that I stalled the conversation because my thoughts coming alive and my subconscious talking to me might be the most perishing thing that had ever happened to me, but that was just the beginning, and things, really spooky, bizarre and uncanny things were about to start.



Chapter Two - Diving Deeper


I reached the coffee shop a little early. I was settling in at a corner table when Neha came inside. I heard her thoughts. She was a little confused, but I could sense some excitement and happiness beneath that. This had never happened before; I could only hear people's thoughts when they thought something inside their heads. I had never sensed their feelings. Maybe my subconscious was indeed right. I was descending deeper into people's minds.

"Hey, Sumit," she said and settled into one of the chairs.

"Hey!" Finally, my name. I thought for one second that she might call me Vijay too. Had it happened, I would have forgotten everything else and started murdering anyone who would make a sound close to that name.

"How are you today?" I asked.

'HOW WOULD I TELL HIM?' "Um...not good!"

"Tell me what?" I had developed a very annoying habit of ignoring whatever people would say out loud. Could anyone blame me? They were always lying. Instead, I'd respond to their actual thoughts. She had never seemed to have any trouble with this pesky habit of mine, but that day she looked offended.

"What? Oh! Would you please stop doing that?" she said.

I could sense from her voice that she was annoyed. "What? That has never bothered you before."

"That's right. But what I have to say today is something I want to tell you myself, not you reading it from my mind because that's the whole point here," Neha explained. "Can you please not be 'The Mind Reader' for a while? Can you respect my feelings?"

Alright. Even if my girlfriend had not said anything and not even thought about it, I sensed something weird. Something that even my subconscious picked at it. 'Uh! That's not gonna end well,' she said.

"Okay, Neha. Whatever you say. Go on." I assured her even though I wasn't sure of myself. I could sneak up on her thoughts, but as long as I kept my mouth shut, there would not be a problem.

'Um...SUMIT! I WAS THINKING ABOUT...'

'Stay quiet, Sumit,' I told myself in my head.

"Sumit, I was thinking about us this morning," she said out loud, and I tried my best not to look guilty, but something was not right about her. I tried not to pry it, but I could sense it. What was it?

'Come on, She is lying.' Apparently, my subconscious knew better.

"Things have not been so good between us lately," she added.

I had no clue when she ordered us coffee, when it arrived, or what she spoke. I could see her lips moving, but I wasn't listening. I had gone deeper into the mind. Not mine, hers. She had been with one of the boys in her class for a project that morning. I could see it. She was at his place. They were supposed to be doing the project, not chatting across the coffee table. There were two mugs too. Their project files, charts, and graphs were spread on the table unattended. Maybe it was a coffee break or something.

"So, how are you two doing?" he asked. "You know, you and him?"

"Umm, I don't know. We rarely talk, and when we do, Sumit's the one who does the talking." Neha seemed tense about me, but it was strange that I had never sensed it. She always seemed so happy about it whenever she was with me. "I have to keep thinking good things about him so that he won't notice," she answered.

So that's why I never realized the truth. I could only hear Neha's surface thoughts. But now that I could dive deep into her mind. Now that I knew she didn't love me, I didn't have to listen to her or even act. But why was she here? Why indeed? I looked further.

"I don't get it," the boy said. I knew what he was trying to do there. I could not read his mind, but I knew. "If you don't want to be with him, why are you?"

"I don't know how to say it to him, or how will he react? I am afraid of him."

She was afraid of me. I was shocked to hear that. I always thought she was impressed by me. I didn't want to see anymore, but I continued.

"Neha, I'm your friend, and I care about you. I think you should be with a person who makes you happy. You have to tell him the truth. You have to face him."

"Yeah, you are right. I have to tell Sumit. I am gonna tell him." She looked into his eyes for a moment. "You make me happy, you know. Strong."

"I do?" He seemed surprised even though he got what he wanted.

She moved closer to him and—

...

I returned from the dim and quiet to the radiance and gabbing of the coffee shop. Neha was still babbling, but I didn't have to wait for the end. My subconscious didn't have to simplify it for me, either. Before any of these could happen—

"You're breaking up," I spoke up.

It felt like dynamite exploded nearby.

"I TOLD YOU—NOT TO—" she burst. Everyone in the coffee shop stopped talking and looked at us for a while. All of their thoughts did resonate in my mind. Neha, too, seemed embarrassed by herself. She looked around and apologised silently, and then she turned to me. "You know how hard this is for me."

"No, actually, it's not," I interrupted. "You're breaking up just because you have found a new boyfriend who makes you happy!" I said as cruelly as I could. She turned pale.

"How do you—?" She looked surprised. I could understand that feeling. When your darkest secret is revealed, you get a look just like hers. And soon, that look changed to that of anger. She slammed her hands on the table, stood up, looked straight into my eyes with the same rage, and opened her mouth to say something but thought better of it. Instead, she turned and marched straight through the door, and I heard only one word—

'FREAK!'

I didn't know if she said it out loud or just thought it in her mind, but I was sure who it was for—me. I stayed on the chair for a good minute, then paid for our last coffee and rolled back towards my home.



I was walking down the road to my house thinking about only one thing, 'Freak'. She thought I was a freak and as if it wasn't enough.

'I'm not gonna say 'I told you',' said my un-detachable, inseparable buddy.

"Yeah, well, you just did," I rolled my eyes.

'That is why I've been telling you to stop. And it's just a start.'

"You mean to tell me that I should stop because I would find out what people think about me deep down?" I asked. "I found out the truth."

'Do you somehow believe that truth is a good thing?' she asked, 'Do you?'

"It's not?"

'For some people, maybe, but for you, no, it's not.'

"Why do you always say things that don't make sense?"

There was no reply. It was like we were talking on the phone, and my subconscious hung up.

"Oh, come on!" I rolled my eyes again and marched straight to my home.

I turned in the street to my house and heard my parents fighting. They had come back, and they were shouting at each other. People have no idea how far their thoughts travel when they get angry, farther than they could scream.

'IT'S NOT MY MISTAKE. IT'S YOURS.'

'MY ONLY MISTAKE IS THAT I MARRIED YOU!'

It didn't bother me. There was nothing new for me. I walked inside, and I was going to ignore my parents and walk straight to my bedroom upstairs, but I heard something that turned my blood cold, something I had never even imagined. The second my parents saw me, they thought the same thing together. 'HERE COMES THE FREAK!'

I stopped dead. 'Freak'. Again. First Neha and now my parents. I did not believe what I heard. My head started spinning, and my vision blurred because of the tears that had filled my eyes. I was not angry but sad. My subconscious was right. I should have stopped long ago. I did not turn to say anything to my parents. I did not look at them, but even that couldn't stop my mind. My mother was thinking about a baby girl, and my father was just focused on his filing cabinet in his study. I could neither make anything out of those nor did I want to. I went straight to my bedroom, maybe because I was trying to hide my tears. I slammed the door shut, lay on my bed, and stayed there.

I stayed on my bed staring at the ceiling up until midnight. Nobody bothered to check up on me except for my brother. He just knocked once and said dinner was in the fridge. He cared about me, but I couldn't tell that for sure. I wouldn't know if he, too, thought I was a freak.

'How did this happen?' I began wondering. 'How did I end up being a freak?' I remembered that I used to be almost a celebrity. 'The Mind Reader'. Did people not believe that? I could actually do that. I remembered mind games and guess-the-word...something hit my mind; others thought it was just a trick or something. Those who didn't believe me. They thought I was a creep.

I remembered once reading a girl's mind in my school and telling her exactly when and where she was going to meet her boyfriend that evening. Instead of jumping with excitement and surprise, she jolted back in disgust and said, "Stop stalking people!" before leaving. I did not even think about it until now. And with that, my past started pouring memories into my head.

"Where are you going?" I had asked my father one evening. We were about to have dinner; my mother was in the kitchen, and my brother was in his bedroom.

"Uh, it's urgent. I got some important work to do in the office," replied my father without looking at me, but I was a mind reader.

"No! You're going to an office party!"

"What? How?" he asked but did not look shocked, though. "Well, yes. But don't tell your mom." And he said just one more thing before leaving that I had never paid attention to, "Stop reading my texts!"

One day I was with my mother, and nobody else was home.

"So, when is your next kitty party?" I asked.

"What? What kitty party?" she was not a good actor; even if she were, that wasn't gonna help her.

"Those you held right here when dad's not home." I smiled.

My mother looked at me, annoyed, "Stop eavesdropping," she said. "That's not a good thing."

Why would people think that? I was still in my bedroom and was still awake. They didn't believe that there was anything such as mind-reading. They used to think I stalked people and eavesdropped on their phone calls, and why wouldn't they? I remember when I was a kid, my favourite game was stalking my parents. I would hide behind the kitchen door and watch my mother cooking.

"Oh! Don't do that, honey," she would say. "You scared the hell out of me."

I used to watch my father sometimes in his study. One day he got angry when he saw me watching him. He was putting some files in his cabine—wait!



His cabinet! I sat upright, and my heart started pumping faster. I felt something different. Was it the thrill? My father had a secret drawer in his cabinet, and that's what he was thinking about that evening. There was something there that he was afraid of me knowing about. That's why he got angry that day. It all made sense, but what could it be? I sat there for a moment and thought, 'one way to find out.'

I slipped out of my bed, walked to the door, opened it quietly, came down the stairs and sneaked into my father's study. I was not making any sound. And even if I did, my parents would think I was looking for something to eat in the fridge. I just had to make sure I didn't make any noise that wouldn't seem to come from the kitchen.

I sat before the cabinet and looked at it for a second. I, very slowly, opened the left drawer. Nothing. Just some files, folders, and stuff. Then I opened the right one. The same usual stuff. Nothing. I browsed through everything but found nothing except some papers, insurance and mortgage, and other stuff. I even pulled the drawers out. Maybe it was just my imagination. My father was thinking about his pending office work or something.

It was when I was putting everything back in order I found something.

When I pushed back the drawers, I realized that one had less depth, maybe just half the other. I touched it and felt that something else was beneath it. The floor of the drawer had been boarded up. Something was hidden there perfectly, invisible and unnoticed.

I pulled up the boarding. There was an old folder beneath it. It even had a date of fifteen years back. I opened the folder and looked at all the papers trying to figure out what it was and what it had to do with me. My heart was racing, jumping out of my chest, sending more and more blood and oxygen to my brain to deal with whatever I might find. They appeared to be some custody papers. No! Wait! Adoption papers—for a boy, who would be about fifteen right now.

Me!

My heart stopped working. I found it difficult to breathe for a while. I felt such horror that I had never felt before, not five years ago in my dark bedroom, not yesterday night, not before, not ever.

"I was adopted?" I asked myself. Maybe asking out loud might get me an answer. 'I was adopted,' my mind kept repeating that phrase inside my head. They are not my actual parents. Hell, Sumit is not even my real name. I searched through those papers to find my name, but I didn't have to. I already knew that, had known that for five years. I finally found the address of the orphanage I was adopted from and my real name.

"Vijay," I said to myself.

Just a moment ago, my heart and lungs were trying to save me from shock and trauma. Now when they had failed terribly, my brain was a wreck.

'So now you know,' she was back.

"That's why you call me Vijay?" I asked after a moment of silence.

'Yes.'

"But how did you know something I don't even remember?"

'I've been to some dark places in your mind. That's why I've been telling you to stop this,' my subconscious explained.

"I still don't understand why?"

'Because I don't want you to go there. It's darker than your worst nightmare. It's like falling into an endless dark pit.'

I was lost.

I had no idea how I got all the stuff back in the cabinet; hell, I didn't even know if I did. I had no idea how I got back to my bedroom and onto my bed. The next time I was aware of my surroundings, I was back on my bed just like I was a few minutes ago. Maybe all this had never happened and was just a dream; I had never gone to my father's study. And I had never found anything, but I knew that wasn't true.

I didn't sleep that night. I could not. How could I? Every time I closed my eyes, I would see those adoption papers, my adoption papers. 'I was adopted!' my mind was still repeating that phrase; it kept doing that the whole night. 'I was adopted! They are not my actual parents. Who are my parents, then? Who am I? Does my ability have something to do with that?'

All those years, I had believed, had assumed, had fed myself with the lie that I had gotten this ability because I faced my worst fear that night five years ago, the dark. Could this be true? Was it even possible? People come across their fears and overcome them every day. They don't just start reading people's minds or moving objects with their own. Those people don't start crawling walls or flying. My abilities were part of my existence, identity, and my past.

Who was I? I needed to find out more than I needed to breathe, more than anything else, but how? Who would tell me? Who would even know? Where could I even start to look for anything? It was funny that I was asking that question as I already knew the answer. The orphanage.



The following morning was very dull, very usual. It was quiet and mundane. I skipped school and took a bus out of the city, to the town, to my past. The previous night, I had managed to take a good, short morning nap, thanks to my subconscious buddy, but she was not convinced about me going there.

'Vijay, stop!' she said. 'Please!'

'I must go there. I need some answers that I wouldn't be able to live without,' I explained. 'There's no point in trying to stop me.'

'I would knock you out. You'll be sent back home,' the voice in my head tried her best, but I knew she wouldn't do that. Maybe she couldn't.

'You won't!'

'How could you be so sure?'

'Because I don't want you to.'

And she was out again. I couldn't understand this thing about her. Why did she keep doing that, coming out of the blue and then going out without a clue? But I wasn't worried about that.

The bus reached the town. I still had to walk about a mile through the open field. I could see the house standing alone in the middle of nowhere. 'This is my home,' I thought. 'Or was, for some time, though.' When I reached the front gate, I felt something different that I hadn't felt ever, something new. I was like a traveller who had arrived at his pilgrimage. My heart was pounding. And with thrill, excitement, hesitation, fear, and confusion, I entered the house.

I was standing in a long corridor. In the end was what looked like a drawing hall or reception, maybe, but I didn't see anybody. I wondered, 'Shouldn't an orphanage be more 'alive' with children playing and running around and all.'

"Hello! Is anybody here?"

I stood there for thirty seconds when a door opened to my left. I turned and saw a wrinkled woman walking with a stick. She had a large pair of glasses on, but even with that, I doubted if she could see me because I had to wave my hand in front of her face before she noticed me at last.

"Oh! I'm sorry I did not see you there," she said softly with all of her voice. "I left the door open for you." She looked at me and said with surprise, "Aren't you a little young to be a repairman?"

It took me a moment to get what she meant by that.

"Oh! Oh! That! No! I mean—I'm not a repairman," I explained. "I am here to—" I added, but I couldn't finish, "—to talk about—"

She looked at me, and when I couldn't finish—"The orphanage?" she did.

"Uh yeah. But how di—?"

She smiled and started to walk towards the end of the corridor where the reception was. I followed her.

"How did you know?" I asked again.

"You are one of the kids who lived here. Are you not?"

"Yes, but how could you tell?"

"You are not the first one to come back to see your old home," she said, smiled again and sat on the couch. I sat next to her and asked.

"Where are the other kids?"

"Oh, they took them a long time ago. They said that the children would live in a better home in the city and would all go to school," she said, and I could feel the pain in her voice. "Maybe they thought I was getting old."

I could feel her loneliness. After all, I had been alone too for some time.

"Maybe they were right. Maybe I AM getting old because I do not remember you." She continued, "You are..?"

"Vijay," I said.

She gasped, put her hand on her mouth and kept looking at me for more than a minute. "Vijay...I can not believe it," she said finally. "After all these years. I really can't—Oh my god! You have grown up and are too handsome a boy." She put a hand on my cheek, felt it and when she realized I was there, a few drops of water emerged in her eyes that I could see through her glasses. "I can not believe it," she said one more time. "But how did you know about this place? You were too young to remember any of this."

I was about to tell her the truth. I was not gonna sit here all day and listen to this old lady. I was just about to look into her mind, her memories, but what had just happened made me think. It made me think about respecting the love this lady had for me. That single touch of affection made me happy about my existence for the first time in the last two days.

"Uh...my parents told me," I lied. "They thought it was the right thing to do."

"Oh, I am not so sure about that," she said. "I mean, when kids are old enough to remember, it is good for parents to tell them the truth. But you—I mean, if you did not remember anything, especially you, it was better if you never knew about what happened."

So it was true. There was something about me that people didn't want me to know.

"But why?" I asked with agitation. "What happened? Where did I come from? What happened to my parents?".

"No! I can not bear to remember all that again. No, please, no!" She looked away from me and started shaking her head.

I was controlling my urge to look into her mind. I wanted to listen through her mouth to have the proof that somebody had told me that, to believe it to be true. Maybe I was afraid of what I might see. I was scared of what I sought the most, my past. But I went on.

"Please, tell me," I urged. "I want to know. I need to know. Please!"

She looked back at me and felt my agitation, that urge into me. Her face changed. At that moment, she knew that I was burning inside to get to the truth. She closed her eyes, looked away from me, and opened them again.

"That was a terrible night because it had rained all night. We had a power cut. All the children and I stayed awake in the light of melting candles, sitting close to each other, listening to the rain and thunder. We were waiting for it to stop, for the sun to come up and cheer us all on again." She was looking at nothing as she was not here but was somehow sent back to that night, feeling it just like the first time. She went on, "Finally it came, the sun. But it did not bring any cheers. It brought with it the police officer, officer Patel of the town, and with him, it brought a child, barely two months old, all covered in blood." She looked at me. "You," she said.

I could see it. Not in the woman's mind but in my imagination. A police officer, carrying a baby in his hands. But I could not imagine the blood. Before I could ask anything.

"At first, I thought it was your blood," she continued. "I asked the officer what had happened. And he said–" her voice broke, and she started sobbing.

I put my hand on her shoulder and pressed it gently. She put her hand on mine and started crying.

"What did he say?" I asked.

She controlled herself, and after a moment, she continued, "Someone broke into your house that night to take shelter from the rain or to steal. Maybe your parents got in his way." She started crying again.

I did too. I did not say anything, nor did I ask anything. I didn't have to. I finally knew what had happened to my parents, how I came here and how my foster parents adopted me.

So this was it. My past. The darkness. Was that what I felt that night five years ago? The same experience from my childhood, from the night my parents were murdered. Was that why I always feared the dark? Because it always took me back to my childhood, that doomed night.



When I returned from the orphanage, I did not go back home. Instead, I turned towards the town to meet officer Patel. There was still something I needed to know. The truth about that night, about what happened. I still could not completely understand my relationship with the dark and the reason for my abilities.

Officer Patel had retired and lived with his wife. He would stay in his bedroom most of the day, sleeping or reading. I knew that because a good guy unknowingly told me when I asked him the directions to the officer's home. When I rang the doorbell, his wife opened the door. The second I mentioned I wanted to talk to officer Patel, she took me to his bedroom. He was reading at that time. As I entered the room, he looked at me and put the book on the bedside table.

"Hello, officer," I said.

He did not say anything.

"I am–I'm Vijay," I said.

As he heard my name, his expression of suspicion changed to that of shock. I think he could not believe what he heard or saw too. He raised his hand and touched my face to authenticate my presence and to trust his senses. I went closer and sat on the chair beside his bed. He patted my cheek, smiled and–

"I knew you'd come," he said, "I was waiting for you."

"I jus–I just found out abo–about my parents," I said.

"Those were good people, your parents," he replied while he tried to remember. "So friendly with everybody. They were the heart of the town. Everyone was fond of them, especially Geeta. They would visit her orphanage every Sunday. Bring candies and toys for children." He was not looking until now, but when he looked at me, he stopped for a while. "That's why I decided to leave you with Geeta when..." He stopped again for a moment. "She was broken when I told her about your parents. She could not stop crying for weeks, and she still does whenever I can go to see her," he said, and I already knew that.

He finally stopped for a moment, and I got to ask the question I was so eagerly waiting for.

"But– what happened? I mean–that night?"

Officer Patel's face went pale as I asked that question. He was a police officer, retired though, but I could see fright on his face that one would never get to see on any police officer's face.

"It was horrible. Horrible. I was going to the police station on the routine that morning. And on routine, I would see your father watering the plants and your mother through the kitchen window. They would greet me with the warmest, sweetest smiles that would make my day, but that morning," his voice deepened. "I did not see anyone. Doors were shut, and so were the windows. That was normal because it had rained all night, but then I saw a broken window from the side of the house." He stopped for a glass of water, drank it all, put it back on his bedside table and continued. "Being a police officer, I suspected something wrong and went in to check if everything was okay. The front door was locked, I had to break it to get inside, and when I reached the bedroom, I saw a horrible sight."

At this moment, my excitement took over me. I lost control of myself and dived into officer Patel's mind and his memories. I could still hear him.

"Your father was lying on the floor bathing in his own blood. The floor was red. There was not an inch to even place a toe."

As he went on, I saw a man lying on his stomach, swimming in blood. This man was my father, and he was dead, really dead. This was not the worst part.

"I entered the bedroom,'' he went on. "Your bedroom, and saw your mother lying dead with eyes still open just next to your crib. Her right hand was still in the crib and holding her finger, sleeping safe and sound, peacefully, were you." His eyes filled with tears, and so were mine. I could see my mother dead but still holding me so I could sleep without fear.

That was the worst part.



I bade officer Patel farewell and started to walk back towards the bus stop thinking about everything I had discovered that day. I had no idea where I was walking to. I was just lost too deep in my thoughts.

My parents were murdered. And that night, the darkness did something to me, made me something else. I still could not understand it completely. What was it that turned me into this? What gave me this unique ability? I was more frustrated than I would have been. Something happened to me that night, with me, in front of me, and still, I could not remember anything. If I could look into my min– my heart skipped a few beats. I stopped right at that moment. Yes, that was what I needed to do, look into my mind. I never realized that everything I wanted to know was in my mind. I was just about to go deep when–

"Don't do this, Vijay. That's the only thing I was worried about. Don't go there," she was back again.

"Oh, it's you again. You come right at the moment to stop me. Are you out of town or something when I need you?" I asked.

"I get burned out," she said. "I am always here but can't reach you. I have to wait for my energy to replenish."

"What? You are talking like you have some form of stamina or energy?"

"Yes. It's something like that. It keeps growing, so I stay longer every time I come back."

"Oh, that's a relief."

"Please don't do this."

"Why?"

"I'm afraid you will not come back from there. You would not be able to."

"You came back. Didn't you?" I asked.

"Did I?"

And that made me want to go there even more. Now I could no longer stand this confusion. What was this dark pit? I had to find out. I had to go inside my mind. I ignored everything my subconscious buddy was saying and all her warnings while I prepared to go deep.

"Go, Sumit! You have to go down," I said to myself. "You have to dive deeper." And with that, I fell into an endless dark pit.



It was still dark. I could see the sky through the window and the occasional lightning. I could hear it, the thunder, and I could sense that something sinister was about to happen.

"I found the candles," said the sweet and gentle voice of a woman, my mother.

"Get them here quick," replied my father above me.

I was lying in my crib, throwing my hands and feet, unable to see anything, and just about to panic. But the voices gave me comfort. And soon, I could see the light shimmering, flickering and moving toward me, and I could see the figure of a woman and a man standing by my crib. Those were some pretty faces. Even in the candlelight, they looked kind, caring, loving, and smiling.

"Oh my chweet bunny, are you alright? We are here, baby." The sweet voice of my mother gave me comfort that I had never felt in my entire life that I could remember.

"Oh look, he's smiling," said my father. "Hey, my boy!"

My mother was making shadow creatures on the ceiling in front of me, and my father was making faces to make me smile even more or to laugh if he could. I was enjoying the show throwing hands and feet some more, but the other me was waiting, agitated, distraught, scared and praying just when I heard something from the other end of the house. It was the sound of the breaking of the window glass. My parents heard it too.

"What's that?" my mother asked.

The making of shadows and faces stopped. They both looked out of the bedroom into the darkness beyond. This darkness was about to change so much in my life and end theirs.

"Maybe we forgot to close one of the windows," my father suggested.

"No, I checked everything," said my mother.

"Well, let me check again and are you sure the flashlight ran out of batteries?"

"Yeah. No spares either. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. Hand me one of the candles."

"Here."

My father moved out of the bedroom towards the sound, to his end. My mother was waiting, looking into the dark. Nothing happened for a few seconds, nothing moved, and nobody spoke. They were getting relaxed, but I knew, and I was afraid. I wanted to scream and warn my parents. Ah! If I could save them somehow, maybe I would get them back, and I would never have to live the life I was forced to live, not that it was a bad life, but now seeing my parents and their love, I wished things went differently. But that was not possible. It had already happened and what happened shook my soul even after I knew what would happen.

"HEY! WHO THE HELL ARE Y-," my father bellowed, but then lots of things happened. There was a thud, something heavy fell, someone was moving around quickly, there was a noise of breaking glassware, and when it stopped, I heard something. There was no mistake as to what it was. It was the sound of a man gasping for breath, gushing blood.

"No!" my mother screamed and ran towards my dying father, but after a moment of silence in the dark, she fell too. There was the sound of heavy breathing followed by hurried footsteps and climbing and jumping out of the window and the last thing I heard was footsteps running away.

There was silence and utter darkness. Both of me were looking in the dark. One was just worried, curious and waiting for the light, and the other was victimized, scared of the dark, yet feeling a part of it. It was quiet, and then I heard something. A voice. A soft, feeble, gentle female voice. Calling out my name, my real name,

"Vijay…"

Something or someone was being dragged on the floor, moving towards me. And then I saw it through my peripheral vision. It was my mother crawling on the floor, reaching out to me. My heart and mind felt a terrible jolt of pain. It got worse when I heard my mother again.

"Viijaay…"

She was just next to me, and then she slid her hand into the crib and started patting me. Her movements slowed down every second, but she did not stop. I felt something slipping on my skin. I was covered in something, but this time it was not cold. I suddenly felt warmth. It was not because of the blood. This warmth and comfort were because of the love, the love of my mother. She wanted to say something like 'I'm here,' 'don't be scared,' or 'mommy loves you,' but she couldn't. She put all her remaining life in to comfort me, so I could sleep peacefully. Her movements slowed down and finally stopped. My mother was dead, and her hand was still on my stomach. I was still throwing my arms, and one of them found my mother's hand. I gripped onto one of her fingers and held it tightly. I knew she was with me. I could sleep peacefully, and nothing would scare me. I finally drifted off, but only one of me. The other me was devastated. The other me was still falling, falling in an endless dark pit.



I was unsure where I was, it was still dark, but somehow, I was floating. I was also feeling gravity. I was going up through stairs, but how? I could hear, but it was as if I was underwater, and then I heard my foster father.

"Hey, what are you doing up there? I told you not to do stairs!" he was saying, and yes, it was like his voice was coming from downstairs.

"I was looking for something," it was my foster mother. I was surprised. "This photograph of my childhood friend, I was missing her,'' she said.

"And I was looking for you. I have–I have a name for our baby."

"Really?"

"Ahan"

"What is it?"

"Um–how about...Supriya?

"Aw! It's beautiful!"

"Hey, watch it–watch your ste–HEY!"

I fell again. Everything was spinning around, and I was falling yet down, and then everything went even darker and quieter. I kept falling and falling. It was as if there left nothing to do in my life but fall. Falling into this endless dark pit.



"Vijay! Wake up!"

"Wha-???"

"Wake up!"

I was lying on the ground. I could hear the birds and the wind shuffling the leaves.

"Come on. Wake up! Please wake up!"

I snapped into reality and slowly opened my eyes. It was dusk. I was lying on the side by the road leading out of the town, back to the city. I was back. I sat and then stood up. It took me a moment to remember everything, and when I did, my heart started crying, and so did my eyes and soul. It was painful to know how my parents died, but it was even worse knowing that I was there and the worst to see it again. I remembered the last words and actions of my mother. She was dying and was still trying to comfort her son. I couldn't get that out of my mind, and I knew I would never be able to. I wasn't thinking about anything else because it didn't matter how I got that ability anymore. It didn't matter what the dark did to me. I was only thinking about my parents and the life I never got to live. And for the first time–

"You were right," I said. "I should not have gone there. I should have listened to you."

"It's okay," she said. I'm just glad that you came back."

"Did I?"

I took a bus back to the city but didn't want to go home. I was sitting in the back and thinking about everything. I was still feeling like crying my heart out, and I was dying inside. Then I got a text, so I drew out my cell phone and started checking texts and calls to get my mind off everything else. My parents were calling me all day. I got a text from my brother asking where I was. The recent text was from my aunt. She was the elder sister of my foster mother. My brother and I liked her very much. I suddenly knew where I wanted to go and who I wanted to talk to.



"So you know."

"Yeah. I found my adoption papers in dad's study."

"Did you tell them that–?"

"No, and I don't want to."

"What are you gonna do?"

"I don't know." I took another sip of the hot chocolate my aunt had made for me. It was one of the reasons we liked her so much. However, I was not feeling any better than earlier on the bus on the way back but talking to my aunt gave me some peace.

"Are you okay, son?" she asked.

"Yeah," I lied. "I don't understand why my parents didn't tell me. I deserve to know."

"Maybe because they wanted to forget what happened to them," she said.

"What do you mean?" I asked, and suddenly my mind drifted off from everything else.

She sighed, stood up and started walking around her living room.

"Before they adopted you," she started, "Your mom had an accident."

"What happened?"

She hesitated for a moment, trying to decide whether to tell me and then she decided.

"She fell from the stairs."

Something hit my mind. I, too, stood up. I opened my mouth to ask, but my aunt answered before I could.

"She was six months pregnant. It was a girl." Her eyes filled, and her voice broke as she spoke, "They had even decided on a name for the baby."

I remembered that my foster mother had been thinking about a baby girl the previous evening. I remembered something else. The dream I had a couple of hours ago. My foster parents were talking about naming a baby. I knew what my aunt was going to say before she did–

"Supriya." She didn't say anything after that, or even if she did, I was not there to listen anymore. I was carried away to some deep, dark place in my mind.

Now it all made sense. The darkness, my fear, my relationship with it, those voices, the reason for my unique mind-reading abilities. Everything. Now I had understood everything. The voice in my head is not my subconscious. It is the consciousness of my dead foster sister or whatever is left of her. Her spirit? She died in that house, but her consciousness stayed. Somehow she stayed there. She was there when my parents brought me home. She saw me or felt me. She saw my past, my recent tragedy, and she must have felt that one common thing between us was the darkness.

I remembered that night five years ago when I was in my worst nightmare. I was experiencing the same thing I did when I was just a baby. I was scared. The first time my mother was there, my dying mother comforted me, but that night I was alone. She must have felt my fear. She saw the darkness inside me that had become her world. I don't know whether she sought refuge or wanted to help me but somehow, her consciousness merged into mine. We became one. She went into the deepest darkest places in my mind. She dived deeper into my past, and she became my subconscious. Her presence calmed me down, just like the presence of my mother did. I was not scared anymore.

I remembered everything that had happened after that night and my five years as 'The Mind Reader'. Her presence made me more than one. One human, one mind, one consciousness, one soul. It made me capable of doing things that nobody could do, things none could even think of.

Now I knew everything.



Chapter Three - Why I Prefer the Dark


Summer ended early that year. It had started to rain in June, which took away the heat. The wind breezed through trees, fields and houses, the weather was pleasant, and the sun wouldn't show up for days. It was still behind the dark clouds as if it was taking a break from its job of heating the land and keeping people inside their houses for the entire day. Now the heavy rain had taken over this job. But unlike the sun, it couldn't keep everyone inside. Some people would still come out. One of those people was me.

Though, I wouldn't step out of my dormitory if it was already raining. But I wouldn't mind heavy rumbling clouds, thunder, or stormy winds. I enjoyed a walk through the fields or sitting beside the lake, thinking about nothing. I would enter my dormitory only after it got dark, have dinner, and go straight to bed to wake up the following morning and go through the same routine.

That's pretty much how my summer went.



It had been five years. I completed high school and left. There was no reason to stay where I was a freak. I got a scholarship and started college. It was not difficult with what I could do. My campus is located in this distant foreign land near a village. I chose this place because it was peaceful there. I found myself at ease when I walked through fields. No people, no traffic, no noise. You would only hear the pleasant chirping of birds and the wind blowing through trees. People here were also benevolent. The thing I liked about them the most was that there were fewer of them here, so I rarely crossed paths with them. I was living my life peacefully.

When the summer holidays ended, my campus got crowded again. It was my senior year. I was planning to live the rest of my life alone somewhere I wouldn't have to worry about my powers which were still growing unchecked. In my first year, I would look at people and their thoughts, emotions, and recent memories would pour out into my mind as a balloon popped, but now they would look at me, just one eye contact, and it was like I would become them. Their life flashed in my mind like an old projected filmstrip.

The first time it happened, I was walking down the only pathway from my college to the road connecting the village to the outer world, a student crossed my path, and the moment my eyes met hers, everything went electric fast. I saw images and memories that weren't mine. I felt emotions that didn't belong to me.

"Congratulations! It's a girl."

"Hey honey, look! She's opening her eyes."

"There she goes again."

"Oh! My baby!"

"99, 100, here I come."

"Did you do this?"

"Honey! Dinner's ready!"

"Don't talk to your mother like that!"

"Hey! I'm Meghna. Call me Meg."

"He was staring at you like an owl."

"Hey, this is Vivek!"

"How'd you do that?"

"Honey! See what your father needs now, will you?"

"Yes! We won!"

"Come here! Look at this."

"BUT WHY DON'T YOU WANNA GO TO THIS COLLEGE?"

"I miss you, mommy."

"Hey! New girl!"

"Excellent, correct answer!"

"Yes, mom. I'll have to stay for the holidays."



I woke up on a bed in the campus hospital. I didn't have a clue what had just happened. I had to find out. I had to understand, and I knew what I had to do. Whenever I needed answers, whenever I didn't understand something, whenever I wanted someone to talk to, I called my only friend in this place. My dead foster sister.

"Supriya."

"Yes," she would come instantly nowadays.

"Did you see what just happened?" I asked.

"I did," she replied, "you saw her entire life."

"But how?"

"I think you know".

"Oh crap! They are still growing! How long will they keep growing?"

"I think you know that too."

"Yeah," I sighed, "but what's next? I mean, I can see their whole past. What will come next? Will I see their future too?"

"I don't know," she said. But whatever it will be, I am afraid it won't be good."

It took me some time to control this thing. At first, I avoided making eye contact. Then I focused on staying in the present whenever I looked into someone's eyes. With each day gone, my powers kept growing, which helped me. Now I wouldn't pass out, wandering in somebody else's memories. It would just take me a partial second, and I would know everything about them. But I would rather stay just in my mind.

After college, I would go to my dormitory to rest and have a quick meal. In the evening, I would walk through the fields, sit beside the lake, avoid people, and avoid life. But all things considered, I was happy. I was alone, but nobody called me a freak, at least. I was at peace. I thought I could be like this for the rest of my life. Everything would stay fine. Nothing could ever go awry.

I had no idea how wrong I was.



The evening it all started, I was following my usual boring and people-less routine, taking a walk through fields to the lake. I had a favourite spot beside the lake. It was a big hemispherical rock lying with its flat face down. It was big enough that a man could barely move it. I chose that spot because it gave me a perfect place to sit, and it was the lonely side of the lake. People would only come to the other side by the road, closer to the village. I would sit there soothing myself, easing my senses. Nobody disturbed me, but that evening when I reached my spot, someone was already seated on my rock. I was looking at the other side of the lake, so I didn't notice him until I was just a few feet away from him. I stopped at a distance from my spot and looked at him. He was a funny-looking man. He was wearing clothes that went out of fashion two decades ago. He seemed tired as he had walked for miles. He stared at the lake like he could drink all of it, even wanted to, but something held him back. And the most bizarre thing about him was not his fashion sense or gaze but the fact that he was not thinking or feeling anything. It was utter silence in my head for the first time in ten years, which startled me. Before I could say or do anything, he turned.

The man looked at me, and his eyes met mine. The sanest thing to happen (for me anyway) would be that his life flashed, and his memories, happy or sad, would melt in my head but what happened was very eerie. It was one of those spooky, bizarre, uncanny things I was talking about. I looked into his eyes and saw nothing but darkness. I felt like I was standing at the edge of an endless, dark pit.

I stumbled back, fell, got up, and ran as fast as I could have in the opposite direction. When I was a few hundred feet away, I looked back. The man was still looking at me, and then he turned back to the lake. I did not stop until I reached my dormitory. I locked myself in the room and stayed there until dinner time.

After dinner, I tried to take my mind off that man and tried to sleep, but I couldn't. I even drifted off for a few minutes but woke up immediately. I heard voices, heard them calling my name, my real name. Maybe it was just my imagination. I got up and went to the terrace for some air. I was walking on the roof of my dormitory. Air breezed through my hair, and it calmed me down. I walked up to the coping and stared at the village. It looked beautiful from a distance. Very few lights were on. It was quiet. I turned my gaze to the road and further to the lake. I looked across the water, and my heart jumped.

I saw the silhouette of a person sitting at my exact spot on the rock. I freaked out. I couldn't see his features, but I knew it was the same man. Then the dark figure moved. I was not sure, but I had a very uneasy feeling that he was looking at me, and that feeling pumped so much fear in me that I ran for the stairs back to my room. I hid under the covers on my bed, breathing heavily. Fear rose in my mind. I tried to sleep again but couldn't. I kept hearing voices for the rest of the night. Supriya helped me calm down and made me sleep for a couple of hours before sunrise. When I woke up, I had forgotten about the man.



I dressed, had breakfast, went to college and attended all my lectures. Everything went back to as normal as it could get. The buzzing came back, and not once I remembered the man at the lake but something else happened, something even creepier that didn't even give me a chance to think about that man. It was the last lecture of the day, so everyone was tired. Nobody was paying attention to the class, and some had already drifted off. I was barely awake, trying to understand whatever the professor was saying, and then I heard someone sobbing behind me. I looked back. It was a girl. She was sitting with her head on the desk, weeping badly. I wondered what could've happened to her in the middle of the lecture. I got curious and tried to look into her memories, and suddenly everything went dead quiet. The buzzing stopped again. The fear came back. The girl's sobbing was echoing in the classroom. I felt myself again at the edge of that familiar dark pit, and I was just about to fall when–

"Sumit? Hey! Sumit!"

I snapped into reality. I looked in front. The professor was looking at me, and so were the students, who were awake.

"What are you looking at?" the professor asked me.

I looked at her with confusion. Did she not hear the girl? I tried to tell her, turned and pointed at the girl, except there was no one on the last desk.

The girl was gone.

I couldn't think. Where could the girl have gone in a few seconds without anybody noticing? The professor was still looking at me for some answers, but I had none. Luckily, the bell went off, and everyone picked up their stuff and left. I was left alone in the classroom. Then finally I too picked up my things, put them in the bag and started to walk out. I stopped at the door and looked into the empty classroom, and suddenly a crazy thought crossed my mind. Maybe that girl didn't go anywhere. She was still there, but I couldn't see her. I stayed there standing for a while, and then I left.



In the evening, I stepped out of my dorm and started walking towards the lake by habit, but then I remembered the man. I didn't want to see him again, so I took a turn and started walking away from the village to the highway which connected my college to the outer world.

The sun was low, and it was lonely. For a moment, the only thing I could hear was my footsteps. Then the soft sound of another set of footsteps fell into my ears. I looked back and saw a little girl walking behind me. She must've been ten. She seemed scared. Maybe she was lost. I stopped to ask her if she was lost, but before I could open my mouth–

I felt chills down my body. Everything around me started to fade to black. It seemed like she was carrying darkness with her. My heart started pumping faster and faster. I took a few steps backwards, but the little girl started running. I tried to run away from her but tripped and fell on the road. She was still running towards me, and following her was utter darkness. She didn't slow down even when she was just a few feet away from me. The dark abyss was just about to engulf me when, all of a sudden, she disappeared.

She dissolved into the air just a few inches away from my face, but before disappearing, she looked right at me and said, "Help!"

I was still on the ground, breathing like a dog, drenching in sweat and fear. What the hell was happening to me?



I was lying in bed wide awake, terrified by the recent events. First, the man stared at me with his dead eyes. Then the girl in my classroom disappeared. And now, this little girl on the road almost engulfed me in darkness. But who are these people? I asked myself, and as I did, I remembered Supriya. I couldn't think of her earlier, maybe because of the trauma. But now I asked her.

"What is happening with me, Supriya?" I was alone in the room, so I didn't need to worry.

"I thought you would've figured it out by now," she replied.

"What?"

"Those are dead people you are seeing."

And suddenly, it all made sense. It was like I had all the data, and Supriya closed the circuit. My abilities were still growing. These abilities were given to me by a dead person, a spirit. I had been interacting with only alive people. Now, I was interacting with dead ones, stuck here just like my sister. I couldn't read their minds and memories because they didn't have any. All they remembered was darkness. The dark, endless pit. I remembered how it was just darkness beyond that man's eyes. Those were looking at me in a disturbingly pleading manner. I remembered that little girl had asked for help just before dissolving into nothing. They all were stuck here, on the land of the living. They didn't have any traumatised, fear-stricken foster brothers to share their darkness with or maybe they couldn't. Supriya wasn't even born, she didn't have any memories of her childhood or any sense of her existence, so maybe, it was easy for her to bind her leftover life force with me. But these people lived–not for long, but they did. They made memories, and they knew who they were when they died. Maybe they couldn't share that with anyone, and now they are stuck here, asking the only person who could perceive them for help, me.

But how could I help them?



For the next few days, I couldn't concentrate on anything whatsoever. I skipped my last lecture because of the weeping girl. I stopped going to the lake or anywhere because of that man and the little girl. I would get up and go straight to the college. And after that, I would come to my room, stay there until the evening, get out just for dinner and get right back in. Supriya tried to persuade me to come out, but I didn't listen to her, and after some time, she stopped asking. This could go either way. In my case, it got the worst.

I was trying to sleep one night, lying still in my bed. I was dreaming, or maybe not. I was in a park when this woman came to me but said nothing. She looked at me with pleading eyes as if she wanted to say something. Her wrinkled skin and tattered clothes were crying for help. Something about her made me very uneasy. I felt myself slipping out of that dream and back into my bedroom. I felt myself turning uncomfortably under the sheets, and then, the dream dissolved. It faded away like smoke. I was awake. I slowly opened my eyes and saw the same woman sitting on my bed.

My heart jumped to the ceiling, and I jumped back so fast that my head hit the wall behind me. I tried to scream, but no sound came from my mouth. I was choking on my fear. Had that woman done anything like drawing out some sharp teeth and long fingernails, looking at me, grinning, or moving and coming closer to me, I would've died right there, but she didn't. She just sat there, looking at me with those pleading eyes glimmering in the light from the window right by me. It was quiet except for my heart pounding out of my chest.

I could breathe after a while, but I still couldn't move. I sat there all night just looking at the woman. When the sunlight hit the horizon, she finally moved, stepped off my bed, walked to the other end and sat in the corner, still looking at me. I jumped off the bed at the first chance and ran for the door. I spent the next few days in my friend's room and said I didn't like it in my room. He didn't ask many questions, but he seemed concerned when I asked him to go to my room and get some stuff.

And this was what had become of my life.



I couldn't live like this forever. I had to do something. One day I decided to go to the lake. That evening I stepped out of my dormitory and started walking towards the lake. I was thinking about how Supriya got stuck in this world. It was an accident. Did something like that happen to all of them too? I reached the lake. I didn't go to my spot but watched from a distance. The man was still looking at the lake, and then he turned. He looked at me, and I couldn't focus on anything but him. He was radiating the darkness. I kept looking at him, but I didn't go any closer, and I was ready to run in case he moved any closer to me, but he didn't, and suddenly I had this crazy thought. He can't even move from this place, he's not just stuck in this world, but he's stuck to that spot, this rock. A train of thoughts started in my mind; I was thinking something.

Could this be?

I spent the rest of the evening on my computer, reading about ghosts and spirits. I knew nothing on the internet was concrete, but I had to start somewhere. I found a blog by some guy named Arjun. He had written a lot on these kinds of things. He had all sorts of ideas about spirits stuck in the living world, but they all seemed to have one common belief. The soul or ghost gets attached to something. It could be anything, ranging from its remains to longing for this world. And to move on, they need to get rid of the thing they are attached to.

Now I had a plan.



That night, I slipped out of my bed. I took all the stuff in a sack made of a sheet from the storage room where I had put it before going to bed and started walking towards the lake.

It was dead quiet. The whole village was asleep. I reached my spot and looked at the man who was already looking at me. I put the stuff down and dared to get closer to him. I got so close that I couldn't see anything except him and the darkness. My heart was racing. I slowly moved forward and tried to push the rock. I tried with all my strength and moved it a little, and the man just dissolved into the darkness around him. He was still there. I could sense him. After I moved the rock out of the way, I took the shovel from under the sheet and started digging. I didn't stop to catch my breath, and I didn't stop until I hit something. It was true. The man, indeed, was lying there. I looked at his remains which had been reduced to just bones. I wondered if these bones were holding someone who once was controlling them. I finally stopped to catch my breath. I stepped out of the pit, and the man appeared again by his grave, still looking at me. If he could say something, I believe he would've said 'thank you'. I took the rest of the stuff from the sack, a can full of gas and a match. I emptied the can on the man's remains and lit them. The heat and light soon took over the darkness. I felt a warmth both from the fire and this man's redemption. He looked at me one last time and disappeared with the rising smoke.

I left with a sense of accomplishment. When I got into my dorm, I went into my room. I looked into the corner. The woman was still there, still looking at me, pleading with her eyes, but I wasn't scared now. I got into my bed and fell asleep. I had the most peaceful nap in weeks, with no dreams, nightmares, or voices.

I began to think I could live like this. There was still hope after all. I didn't hear any voices for the next few days. The woman was there, but she stayed in the corner of my room. The weeping girl didn't appear in my classroom. Supriya told me it was just a matter of time.

"It's gonna happen again, very soon."

"How are you so sure?"

"Those ghosts haven't gone anywhere. They are still there. They will return like I do every time."

"So what do I do?"

"You can try to help them like you helped the old man at the lake, but I'm not sure you can help all of them."

"What do you mean?"

"What are you gonna do about the woman in your room? You can't dig up your walls. And who even knows if she's there? Maybe it's not her corpse. Maybe it's something else."

"Something else?"

"Yeah, remember we read on that guy's blog that spirits can attach to objects too. Something they were fond of when they were alive."

Though there was no proof that it was true, I had to give it a little consideration, as I had just tried a way that I read on the internet to get them to move on, and it had worked perfectly. Supriya was right. There was no chance I could ever help the woman. But I did help the little girl on the road.



One night I got out of my dorm with my sack and walked to the spot where I had seen her the last time. I waited, walked around a bit, and even called her. She didn't appear the first night. I kept repeating my ritual until one day, she appeared. I felt her presence. It got cold too quickly, and my vision got blurry. There was nothing else except for the little girl and me. Everything else drowned in the darkness. She looked at me, and I felt the same pull. The one that I felt the first time. I saw the dark pit and the endless suffering. It was like falling into eternal darkness but never reaching the bottom.

She looked at me with pleading eyes and uttered just one word – 'help', and started walking away. I followed her. She walked for a minute in the darkness. It was far from the road, and I realized something. No one could have heard her screaming, even if she could cry for help. There were dense trees all around, so no one could have seen her taken away. She stopped at the base of one of the trees, turned around, looked at me, and disappeared.

I didn't wanna see it. I didn't wanna dig, but I had to, so I did. I could not look at it. I didn't wanna believe a human could do this to a child. I was thinking on my way back that this world is full of monsters. One could never feel secure here, and one could never feel happy.

A few more days passed, and it became apparent that I could no longer live an ordinary life. I was stupid to even think of such things in the first place. I started hearing voices in my sleep again. The old lady would now sit on my bed all day and night. She followed me wherever I was in the room. She wouldn't say anything, wouldn't do anything. She would follow me as long as I was in the room. I couldn't live with that. It was still alright until the day that changed everything in my already cursed life, the day that mutilated my already massacred happiness and forced me to feed on it for the rest of my life, the day that finally gave me hope, a way to get me out of my misery and then took it away.



The day started like any other day of my cursed life. I woke up sweating and breathing heavily after having a nightmare. I heard voices just like any other day. The old lady followed me everywhere, which didn't bother me. I kept hearing voices even when I was awake. But I made it through all of my classes until the last one.

I was hoping for the lecture to end soon, but a part of me wanted that lecture to last forever. I was trying to focus on my professor's words, half asleep, drooling and drifting away just when I heard it, which made my heart jump, my body shiver, and pulled me out of my slumber and gloom. It was that same sob of the girl that I heard days ago. She had come back. I couldn't dare to look behind, not because of the professor, but because I was scared. I almost knew that if I turned, I would see her looking right at me with those eyes which were the edges of the eternal pit of the darkness. I covered my ears so I couldn't hear her, but the voice was in my head, like all the other ones, they always have been, like my parents used to say. She was getting louder with each sob, and my professor's voice was fading away. I was forcing myself to stay in the classroom, but I gave up when I saw the darkness emerging from the corners of my vision. It was not advancing like a humanoid figure; instead, it was growing like a shapeless entity, flowing like a dense fluid, engulfing everything. Everything around me was drowning in the darkness, taken over by dead silence except for the sobs of the weeping girl echoing in my head.

I conjured all my strength, got up, screamed and ran. I don't know how long I ran, don't remember how far. I just kept running. Directions and pathways were obsolete to me. I ran until I could. I ran until I couldn't remember anything anymore. The next thing that I do remember was that I was sitting in a lighthouse. The noises of the clouds, winds and lightning told me there was a thunderstorm outside. I looked up and out of a window, and the sky lit up for a second and then it was completely dark.

"Vijay…"

The clouds made the noises again, the sky lit up, and I, once again, found myself in my crib, throwing hands and feet, waiting for any of my parents to return. I wanted to see their smiling faces once again and hear their comforting voices, but all I heard was–

"Vijay…"

–and the sound of my mother, my dying mother dragging herself on the floor towards me.

"Viijaay…"

She crawled up to my crib, reached in and patted me with her warm, blood-soaked hand, and just like that, I was calm again. I held onto her finger tightly and drifted off to sleep. At that moment, I missed her so much that I wanted her to come back, and I missed her even more because I knew she could never come back, but then, my eyes lit up in the darkness with the thought that if she couldn't come back to me, I could go to her.

It was dark. Peaceful and comfortable. I liked it there, but it hadn't always been the same.



The wind was still strong. The clouds, however, had gone quiet, and the storm had calmed down. I looked at the sea and beyond. Everything looked so tiny from up here. As if nothing meant anything anymore. All that mattered was the darkness beyond life. The eternal pit. The everlasting calm. I closed my eyes, took a long breath and let go of everything. I let go of the voices in my head and my grip on my life.



"Wake up! It's time for the medication."

The nurse walked in and turned on the light. I looked at her and squinted my eyes, focused very hard to stop the flashes of her memories. She gave me my pills and poured me a glass of water. I took the water and smiled at her. She smiled back but barely because she seemed stressed. I gulped down my pills, handed the glass back to her and said–

"Thank you, and don't worry, your boyfriend's mom is gonna like you. You're sweet and kind."

She looked at me. This time she smiled, really smiled. "They told me about you, warned me that something like this would happen but thank you. Now you take rest."

"Okay, and could you turn off the lights on your way out?"

"Sure." She started to walk out of the room and was almost at the door.

"And blinds too."

She turned back. "Blinds? Why?" She walked up to the window anyway and closed the blinds. She then turned off the light and started walking out again.

"Nothing, it's just that..." I put myself in a more comfortable position and closed my eyes. She was already out of the room and probably didn't hear me, but I said to myself anyway, "I prefer the dark."



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