The Companion

A seven years old boy finds a doppelganger of him while playing in his backyard and he does the worst he could've done, he brings him home.
Reading time: 23.93 minutes.


Chapter One
Changed Plan

The Companion The Explorer's Tales

I had been watching him for a few days now. He was seven. Only child. I had learnt his routine. Six hours in the school, rest in the house, secure and out of reach. The only time he would come out was just a little before sunset, to play in his backyard. I watched him play all by himself, alone. I pitied him. He had no one to play with but that was ideal for me. This was the perfect time to strike. So I made a plan. 

The next evening, when he was playing in the backyard, throwing a big ball around, I approached him from the bushes. He heard me and got alerted. He was looking in the bushes and then without any prompt, he threw the ball at me. I caught it. He knew that it wasn’t an animal. He knew that whoever was in there, it had hands. He took a few steps backwards.

“Who is there?” he asked.

I slowly walked out of the bushes, holding the ball in my hands. He looked at me and I saw his face going from scared to intrigued. I put the ball on the ground, rolled it towards him and smiled.

He grabbed the ball, picked it up and looked at me with astonishment.

“You look just like me.” He said.

“And you look just like me.” I mimicked him so nicely that he smiled.

“Who are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you lost?”

“Yes. I am lost.”

“Wait here, I'll call my mom, she will help you.”

He started running towards the house and I saw my plan ruined just like that. I had to do something.

“NO! WAIT! Don’t call your mom. If she saw that we look the same, she would- she would-“ I tried to convince him, how hard could that be? “She would freak out, and she would get angry. Maybe she will leave me out in the woods. I don’t want to go there. It’s scary.”

“So what do we do? How do we get you back to your home, to your parents?

“I- I don’t have parents. I am alone. I don’t have anywhere to go.”

He started thinking. I looked at his face and wondered if he even understood what it is like not to have parents. He probably could not process that. For him, it wasn’t even possible but he knew that it was a terrible thing because I saw his face struggle to find something to say but how could a seven years old boy know what to say to someone who doesn’t have parents and a home. So he just stretched his hands out and with them, the ball.

“Do you want to play?”

I knew I had to do it even though I didn’t want to. So I jumped with fake excitement.

“Yes. I want to play.”

After about half an hour, it was time to go back inside and that’s what I had been waiting for. He carefully sneaked me in from the back door without his mother noticing. He did a very nice thing once we got in his room. He gave me his clothes to wear. I changed out of the old, dirty rag I was carrying myself in into his clean, soft clothes. It felt so good. I had never had anything else to wear, certainly not this clean. I gave him a smile, a genuine one this time.

At the time of dinner, he asked me to stay inside and he went to get some food. I could hear him talking to his mother.

“Mom, can I take this to my bedroom?”

“Why honey? Are you okay? Is something wrong?” Her mother asked him in her sweet voice.

“No, nothing. I just feel like it.”

“Okay but finish it all.”

He entered the room with a plate full of food that I had never seen in my life. It’s smell made my stomach teem. We both started eating. He was very slow but obviously, it was not the first time for him. I gulped everything, especially the vegetables that he didn't even want to touch. We finished everything.

“I’m full.” He said, “Do you want more?”

I nodded with my mouth full of food. He seemed concerned to know that.

“You do? Okay, wait here. Let me see.”

He then went out again and I moved closer to the door to listen.

“Mom, can I get some more?”

There was nothing but silence for a few seconds.

“You what? You finished it?”

“Yes.”

“All of it?”

“Yes, mom. Can I get some more? Please.”

“Sure but this time you'll eat here.”

I heard him walk back. He entered and said immediately looking at me.

“I am sorry. I could not bring it in. You will have to go out there if you want more.”

“No, no. I can not go there.”

“Don’t worry. They won’t recognise you. Come on let’s exchange our clothes.”

He then started taking off his clothes, I changed into them and walked to the dining room. I was looking around the house with my mouth wide open. It was so clean and shiny, I could see my face reflecting off of a few surfaces. The whole house was filled with the fragrance of flowers. It was so calm and comfortable that I had never felt in my life.

“What are you looking at?”

Asked his father who was too sitting by the dining table. I shook my head and climbed on the chair. I looked at my plate and my mouth watered again. I ate all of it while his parents watched me with amazement. I saw them take their plates to the kitchen so I grabbed mine too but his mother took it from my hands.

“It’s okay honey. I got it.”

Her touch felt soft and warm. It made me envy him for a moment. I walked back into the bedroom. He was waiting for me.

“See I told you.” He said. "Come on it is bedtime."

He made me a small bed in his closet space. That was the only thing that looked somewhat similar to my natural habitat but still, it was dry, soft, warm and clean, free of any stench. I slept peacefully that night for the first time.

Next morning he did something that made me change my heart. When he made an excuse to come back in the bedroom so that he could sneak me out from the back door until he was back from the school, he handed me his food.

“Here, it’s my lunch box. You can not get anything to eat out here and you can not take anything from the fridge, mom would notice.”

“What are you gonna eat?” I asked and I really was curious.

“Don’t worry, I will eat with my friends.”

And then he walked away. I stood there with his lunch box in my hand and thinking that he didn’t even care about himself. He gave me his food. Nobody in my life has ever given me his food, not even my brother. I felt something that I had never felt before. At that moment I changed my plan. I decided that I won't kill him.

Chapter Two
Last Forever
The Companion The Explorer's Tales

It had been ten years. He was seventeen now. Time passed like sand in the wind. I had taken his bedroom, he gave it to me himself. He had been living in the treehouse that we built together in the woods, just a few minutes away from the house. He visited sometimes. I would go out when he did. He hadn’t seen the face of the school in months. I had been taking his classes, doing his homework, taking exams, I was practically him, minus the fun because that was his job. He spent his day in the treehouse mostly alone sometimes with a friend who would bunk his classes thinking that they were doing it together and his evenings with his girlfriend, his nights partying with friends while I would stay home doing whatever I was supposed to do. 

I did not even realize when he started using me. One day he just asked me if I wanted to see his school. I was excited, I agreed. He told me about everyone, his friends, teachers in the best way he could. I already knew a lot about them as he used to tell me stories about them. I was the only one he could talk to about his day. It was when I went to school I came to know that he did it because he hadn’t completed his homework. I received all the scolding and punishment. He just said he had forgotten but I found out he had completed his homework while I was in school. I didn’t mind it though. He let me stay in his room, shared his clothes and food. It was the least I could do for him. But over the years, it had become like a routine that I have to do everything that he didn’t want to and he got to all the things that he liked. I had hoped that we would share everything together. It was still alright. I woke up one day to go through the same boring routine while he was probably asleep in the treehouse. I was silently eating my breakfast and his parents were in the kitchen talking about something.

“-but are you sure it’s safe out there?” Whispered his mother.

“Yeah, don’t worry. Other rangers will be there with me. We know it’s not an animal.” His father replied.

“How do they know that?”

“They found guard’s body intact but his clothes and belongings were gone.”

“Who could have done that?” Asked his mother.

“Who knows?” Said his father.

I did. I knew what or who had killed that guard. So after his father left, his mother got busy, I left for school and after that, I went into the woods. I didn’t know where to go, I was just looking around when I saw him.

An old guard in his uniform was looking at me from under a tree. He was smiling. I saw him and smiled back. I walked towards him, he took a few steps forward and hugged me. I hugged him back tightly.

"Hey, brother! How are you?" I said.

“Oh it’s been so long I thought I would never see you.” He replied.

“How did you find me?”

“I wasn’t even looking for you. You know I'm allowed now to go out so I was just exploring the forest when I saw you with a Ranger.”

“Yeah. That ranger- that’s his father- which reminds me- YOU KILLED A GUARD?”

"Yeah, I didn't want to kill him, man! But he saw me changing. I had no way, he was going to pull a gun on me.”

“You- oh- what did y- if they find out-” I started.

“I know. They would have found out by now. I can’t go back!” He interrupted.

“Oh brother! What are you gonna do?”

“I was thinking that maybe- you know- maybe I could stay with you.”

“What? No, you can’t stay with me. He won’t let you.”

“Why? He let you stay.”

"He was seven then. It's not like that now. And he doesn't live with me, he lives in a treehouse near the house. We can't stay together for too long. And when you come in, it's gonna be impossible.”

“Come on brother I need your help. I have nowhere to go. I can’t go back. I can’t stay out here. I will be hunted. If not by our own people, then by those keepers.”

"Keepers don't hunt," I said.

"Yeah, but they keep sending other people. Please brother. Please!”

“Okay okay, just give me some time. I'll think of something.”

“Okay, thank you.”

We talked for about an hour and then it was time to go home before his parents start to worry.

“I’ll let you know as soon as I figure out something.”

“Sure. I'll wait here until then. You can call me on my new phone.” He said as he took a phone out of his pocket showing it to me, smiling.

I quickly snatched the phone out of his hands.

“Where did you get this?” I asked.

“It belonged to that guard. Why?”

“They can track you with this, don’t you know?” I said to his face and threw the phone away. “And you can’t charge it once it runs out of battery.”

“Okay. Sorry. How're we gonna get in touch then?”

“Meet me tomorrow at the treehouse. It’s about a mile west from the eleventh marker, near the house. Same time.”

“Okay. I'll see you there.”

"Bye, and take these." I handed him some chocolates.

"What? is this food?"

“Kinda, they are chocolates.”

“Ooh, I've heard about them so much. Heard they are sweet.”

I laughed.

“Oh ‘sweet' doesn’t even begin to describe them. I thought you’d enjoy them. Wait till I get you some ice cream. See you.”

I left him in an inebriation caused by those chocolates and returned home. That night I kept thinking about him though and also the next morning.

I was walking to my class when I heard a commotion. I stopped to look what was happening when I saw a kid on the ground crying and trying to get up but a tall strong boy was holding him down preventing him from getting up. Everybody was just standing there watching that kid being humiliated. I looked at the tall boy and sighed. He was one of my classmates and a bully. Everybody hated him. When would he learn to behave? I thought. If only there was a way he could be nicer to people. Suddenly a thought popped in my head.

If there was a way he could change. I finally had a solution to my brother’s problem. I walked up to that boy and shouted.

"Hey, jerk! Why don't you go pick on someone your own size?"

He turned back and looked at me.

“Or what? What are you gonna do?”

He started walking towards me. The small kid got the chance. He picked up his stuff and ran away.

“Stay away from me!” I warned him. I was afraid that I might do some serious damage to him. I had to be careful.

“Try and stop me!” he said and swung a punch at me. It was like it took ages for his fist to reach my face. He was so slow even for humans. I blocked his punch with ease and threw him away. He stumbled but turned back and tried to ram into me. I simply stepped away and tripped him. He fell hard on the ground. Everybody laughed. It was like they were rooting for him to get beaten up. I was only halfway done yet.

“You’re so slow, have always been slow. That’s why I got Madhu first.” I said to him and watch his face turn red.

He picked himself up and looked at me with rage.

“This isn’t finished.”

"Oh, you wanna finish it?” I mocked him, “Meet me after school at my treehouse, we'll finish it then and there,” and then I walked away.

I had challenged him to a fight and I had made my mind up but in the lunchtime, I began to doubt my decision. I wasn’t sure if I could go with this. I walking around in the corridor when I spotted Madhu, his girlfriend, in our classroom. There was no one else. She was eating her lunch and probably humming a song in her head. Then she looked at me and took the earphones out of her ears, smiled and waved at me. I waved back. Then she gestured me to come over. Normally, I would avoid that but something happened to me. I walked in.

“Hey! How are you?” I asked.

“Surprisingly awake. I almost skipped school today. I still don’t get it how you do it. We both were awake till four in the morning but you look fresh just like you do all the time. What’s your secret?” She finished.

"Oh you know," I said throwing my had in the air, "drink a lot of water, eat healthily and stuff."

“Come on sit.”

I sat next to her. We both looked at each other.

“What’s the matter? You look worried.”

I was surprised.

“How do you know that?”

“Come on, it’s all over your face.”

Impressive. I thought. Humans are interesting.

“Nothing, it’s just-”

“You can tell me. It’s okay.”

“Uh- okay- um- someone needs my help, a friend and I can help him but- uh- I have to do a bad thing, to a bad person. I'm just not sure if I should do it.”

“This friend, it’s not a girl, right?”

“No, no. He's a guy.”

“Is he a good friend?”

"Oh, he is the best. He's more than a friend. He is like- family."

“Then you do it.”

I looked at her.

“What?”

“Yeah, I mean you clearly want to help him and that other person, you say he's bad?”

“Yes.”

“So maybe he deserves it.”

“Wow, you made it sound so simple. How do you do it? What’s YOUR secret?”

“Oh- you know, you can’t care about everyone. You just care about the ones you love.”

“Yeah. I guess you’re right.”

I looked into her eyes. I had never found any human attractive. They all look ugly to me. But at that moment, everything felt different. She was the most beautiful human I had seen.

"You are very beautiful," I said.

“What, you've noticed that just NOW?” She said mischievously.

I don’t know what came over me. I leaned in and kissed her. She didn't resist. Why would she? For all she knew, I was her boyfriend. It was an unforgettable moment. I wanted it to last forever.

That afternoon, I walked to the treehouse after school. As I was on my way, I received a text message. I knew it was from him. He got me this phone so he could stay in contact with me, pass the necessary information and instructions on what to do next. I opened the text and read it. He had called me to the treehouse. Since I was already going there, I put my phone back in my pocket without replying.

When I reached the treehouse. I saw him waiting for me at the base of the tree. He seemed angry. He looked at me and said loudly from the distance.

“You kissed her?”

“Let me explain.”

“Explain? What’s there to explain? And who did you beat up?”

“Listen I ne-”

“No you listen," he took out his phone and showed me the texts, " I've been receiving texts all day! 'Hey nice one, you gave him what he deserves.’ And this one- ‘Finally someone showed him who's the boss.’ 'Man you are the champ, you embarrassed his bully ass in front of everyone.’ And this last one from her, 'Do you realize that was our first kiss in the school?’”

“Uh- I- um-”

“Yeah? Now tell me what’s left to explain? What has gotten into your head? You challenged him to a fight?”

“Yes,” I jumped on the first moment I got to talk, “I challenged him, HERE, so we have to go. We can’t be seen together. He might be coming here right now?”

"Oh, I'm here, alright."

We both turned back and saw the bully standing a few feet away from us. He had the most annoying smile on his face.

“So that’s your secrets. You are twins. That’s how you do all that you do. Oh, I'm so happy I came here early. Are you parents in on this too?"

“Dude, it’s not what it looks like,” he began to explain but the bully interrupted him.

“Oh, I know exactly what it is. Just wait till your secret is exposed before everyone.”

“No, please don’t tell anyone. Please you can’t do this.” He pleaded. I just stood there because I had sensed what was going to happen.

“I can, and I will.” The bully said.

“No, you won’t.”

The bully turned to look who had said those words but he was grabbed by the neck and was being lifted in the air by an old guard. We both, I calmly while he in panic, watched the guard squeeze the life out of the bully and throw him aside.

My companion just lost it. His face turned pale and his body started shivering. He tried to scream but barely any sound came out of his mouth. I tried to calm him down.

“Shh, it’s okay. Don’t panic. It’s alright.”

“Who- wh- wha- who ar- who are- you?”

“Relax.”

“He- he kill- killed him!”

“It’s okay. Nobody's gonna find out. Oh, brother, it's not helping, do it." I said to my brother. "Show him."

I thought it might help him calm down. But when he saw my brother’s skin turn murky grey with spikes and thorns and hairs and then again saw it change to take the shape of the bully, he went completely insane. My brother was now looking just like the bully. He and I both looked at him and I finally introduced ourselves.

“Meet my brother. We are shapeshifters.”

Chapter Three
The Real Monsters
The Companion The Explorer's Tales

My companion tried to run but he was so scared that he stumbled, tripped on the roots of the tree and fell on the ground. He hit his head on the tree and fell unconscious. 

When he woke up, we were deep in the forest. The dead body of the bully was lying at a distance. My brother and I were just waiting for him to wake up, looking at him. He opened his eyes and looked around. It took him a few seconds to remember everything then he jumped when his eyes saw us.

“Relax. Don’t be scared. We are not gonna hurt you." My brother said.

“Who are you?” He managed to ask.

"As my brother told you, we are shapeshifters. We live underground.”

“Wh- ”

“I know. It’s hard to explain. We can take any shape and form. Yes. There are other families of shapeshifters all around the world. Some of them are even rich and live with humans. We can blend easily you see. Not our family though. Apparently, we are all above this. We don’t bother humans. We believe in peace and harmony even though it means we have to wear sacks and eat garbage. My brother ran away ten years ago, I get why he did it. We could be anybody, live any life we want but we chose what, misery!”

My brother was speaking without any breaks. He probably wanted to say all this for a long time. I too just kept listening.

“After my brother ran away, our elders tightened the security otherwise I would have run too. They allowed me to go out when I came of age and it was time for me to hunt for food myself. I was just looking for food when I saw my brother. You know we can identify our own kind in any form. It’s more like changing clothes to us. You can identify your known ones even if they are in different clothes, right? Unfortunately, I killed a guard while I was hunting. And if there’s one thing our family hates, it’s killing. I was scared to go back so my brother came up with this solution. I will take the dead guy's place and nobody would notice.”

He was listening quietly. His face emitted hatred and resentment.

“You guys are monsters!” he said.

“What did you say?” asked my brother. But he looked at me and said.

“You used me.”

I was taken aback but before I could say anything, my brother spoke.

“WE used you? Oh, it's typical, so typical of you humans. You use everything and everyone, even your kind and then you blame others. We used you!? You used my brother for all these years but he said nothing because he at least had a home. We used you!? We sleep in the dirt because of you. You, humans, think you are the only intelligent beings on this planet. You live in delusion. You can’t stand the fact that there could be anyone superior to you or even just like you. You don’t have the slightest idea how many kinds of creatures live in hiding just because of you. Your governments hide any proof and cover up anything that could dethrone you from ‘the most intelligent being on the planet', you try to fool yourselves with your space programs, pretending to look for the truth. Can you handle the truth? Let me tell you the truth.”

My brother was sparkling with rage. I knew he always wanted this. To throw the truth in their faces and now he had got his chance. He moved so close to him that his face was just a few inches away from his and then he let out the truth.

“Aliens have been living among you for millennia. They were here even before humans. You practically worshipped them as gods. And you don’t have the slightest idea how many creatures of the dark lurk in Crime City, probably more than the actual criminals. Or the rest of the country or the world. Some of you are trying to fight them but they are all fighting an already lost war. You have a delusion that this world is run by humans. You know nothing about this world. You wouldn’t learn it in your schools and definitely not in your books because you are the ones who wrote them. You live in a bubble of your making, you do each other wrong all the time, manipulate them, even kill them. You do it every day like it's routine and the irony is that you call us monsters. Look what have you done to this planet. The truth is that YOU are the real monsters.”

My brother finally took a deep but calm breath. Then he looked at him again and said.

“So, now that everything is out in the open, we have established some facts, have judged each other enough, I only have one question, can you keep your mouth shut? We'll go out there. Everything will go as it was supposed to go. Nobody will know anything. So will you do it? Up to you.”

We both looked at him and waited. He first looked at my brother and then at me contemplating the situation. One part of me wanted him to say yes but why only a part? I wondered. He seemed to have decided something, he looked straight at my brother, clenched his jaw and said.

“No!”

My brother looked away and closed his eyes in disappointment. He took a deep breath and then,

“Alright, this settles everything.” He said and grabbed him by his neck and picked him up like he was just a doll.

I saw him struggle. His blood-filled eyes met mine for a moment. He couldn't say anything but I knew he was pleading to me for help. I looked at him and remembered. He was the boy who gave me shelter, fed me every day for ten years, gave his clothes, shared his room, his life with me. I remembered that I had decided that I won’t kill him. I almost opened my mouth to say something but I remembered that this was also the boy who used me. He used me like a slave. I was just like a pet to him. But it doesn’t matter, I thought. What he did for me was way more than what he used me for. I would still have stopped my brother but I remembered something else.

I remembered the soft, warm touch of her lips on mine. I remembered the fragrance of her hair and her skin. I remembered the kiss and I remembered that I wanted that to last forever so I just turned and looked away without saying anything. After a few seconds, I heard a thud of when his body hit the ground. I didn’t look at it. I just turned to my brother.

“Change your clothes. Hide the bodies. We'll get rid of them later. Right now we have to stage a fight at the treehouse and come up with a reason to be friends.”

I then threw a quick look at the lifeless body of my companion and walked away.

Shapeshifters will return. Meanwhile, read the story of the notorious 'Crime City', Shadows.


Anthology


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