Panting like an animal out of water for days, he ran up the grass, through the converging and crisscrossing shrubbery, stumbling and falling over in his haste, gathering himself up, and sometimes scarpering on all fours like a dog.
He lunged over the high compound wall which bisected the apartment block and the neighboring park with an ease that would have shamed a gazelle, or equally, a fevered werewolf. He ran on the winding park road which was flanked on either side by carefully shaped and pruned bushes. Whether through the distortion of his straight-thinking mind by the effect of speed or the waning sense and feeling in his flesh and bones or the voluntary slowly turning into its opposite against his will—due to one of these, but which one he couldn't tell exactly—he felt the shrunken, leaved things lining the park road gaining on him, as if it was they who were doing the running, not him. He felt such a strong sense of being overtaken, of being forced to surrender, that he suddenly stopped.
An onlooker, if he had happened to witness this passage, could have been deluded into believing that the boy had slammed with tremendous force against a thick, impenetrable and simultaneously invisible wall.
He walked towards a stone seat with slow, deliberate steps, as if testing his weight on each foot, whether his feet would really hold him up, or inexplicably give way and cause him to fall to the ground with a whooshing sound. His trembling eyes were focused on a corner of the stone seat. A snake, quite large and long, judging by the heap of coils it had rested its head on, watched his approach warily with bright beady eyes. The snake's slimy, poison-black body flashed in series of lightning-bolt pleats of silver as it raised its head and flared its hood. The rows of scales on its lithe, flowing body shifted to accommodate the move. The boy moved nearer still, and as he did, his face and body underwent a succession of curious transformations: his face elongated, his eyes expanded sideways, the irises dilating into strange, amoebic shapes, his mouth curled into a grotesque snarl—a formless hollow like a void in a ghost. He blundered blindly in the direction of the snake on jelly-like legs and rubbery, elastic hands.
Bits of him broke away from his body, units of fingers snapped; the nose neatly fell off and floated for a few seconds before dissolving and disappearing, almost completely. Only a mere shadow was left. A glasslike silhouette which retained the shape of what organ it had been before. When the boy was half a foot away from the snake, it raised its hood angrily and struck hard at him—or at least, at where he had been, because, exactly at that moment the boy disintegrated and vanished completely. The cascade of the leftover shadows poured into the stone seat in one sinuous wave.
The snake bit air.
But, something was happening to the stone seat. It made grating sounds and shook fiercely, as if the stone-atoms within it were unlocking and loosening. It soon acquired fluidity; the granite turned into an amorphous, squirming mass. A bowl-like dip formed in the middle, right underneath the snake.
Alarmed by the strange behavior of the stone seat, the snake was rapidly uncoiling and trying to quickly slither away. But before it could stage the escape, it was firmly sucked into the dip. The sides of the stone seat rose into wide, flappy tentacles and flopped down on the snake in layers, cutting off the snake from any means of obtaining air and closing all possible routes of escape. The stone seat was now a mound of grey, a ball-shaped thing that occasionally developed protrusions in its sides. The ball made a few long gurgling sounds and was still for a while. Then, it unfurled back to its original shape, regaining its hardness and sharp lines. The mass of shadows pulled away from it with a great sucking SMACK!, and slowly a finger, a toe, one eye at a time, regrew into the body of the boy. Even after the shape was completely the boy again, it stood frozen.
The boy moved a leg cautiously. Stood. Jerked his head sideways as if he was trying to get rid of a mosquito humming at his ear. And walked forward, looking shaken.
His eyes and the tendons in his arms had a strange poison-black tinge to them for a while afterwards.
He had no idea how these strange happenings had started, or even why they were happening and what it was that was happening. But he had gradually come to understand and recognize the symptoms when they started showing.
Previously, only a quarter of an hour earlier, the boy had been sitting on a couch in front of the television in his girlfriend's house. An apartment on the twentieth floor in an obscure part of the city. She was taking a bath. The parents were out.
His girlfriend had been calling him (what name would suit the thing he was?) when he felt the tell-tale flare of heat rush up his legs. His body went stiff. Why now? Why should this—this evil consciousness—choose to take possession of him now?
He got up and ran to the door, but decided against it. The elevator or the staircase meant more people. He couldn't afford to take that risk. Looking around in a frenzy he noticed that the hall led out to a balcony that overlooked a park, which from there looked quite deserted. He made sure nobody was looking out of their windows and climbed up precariously onto the thin steel railings.
His girlfriend was still shouting for him. Loudly.
Ignoring the calls, he took a deep breath and dove. He heard her shrill shouting all through his long fall.
Down at the park the boy moved around. He walked through the labyrinth of hedges that compartmentalized the park. One tall section curtained the duck pond and another a well-trodden brick path, probably where people strolled on their evening walks. He was searching for something that would hide him from others. Actually, hide others from him. God forbid an unwitting and innocent passerby enter his vision!
He eventually found one in a shadowy part of the park which hid a number of park benches in the seclusion behind many towering and overgrown bushes. This was probably the lover's lane. Every park has one.
He forced his way through a narrow break in the hedges and sat on an old park bench. Leaning back, he tried to calm his breathing. Vestiges of heat still trawled in his blood. He knew the heat would take a long time to recede. He closed his eyes.
He didn't know how much time had passed when he woke up. Someone was shouting his name. The voice was very familiar. The flames shot up and licked every inch of him from within. He groaned piteously.
No! Not now! Not her!
He sat rigid in his seat facing the break in the hedge, waiting, and hoping she would not pass.
She was talking to herself, asking where he had disappeared to, for she was sure she had seen him walking about in the park from the balcony. The light from the hedge-opening stopped as she passed, her silhouette shadowing the excess of color atop his skin. It was unbearably hot inside him.
The girl walked back to the gap in the hedge, and called out his name. Where was he? She was sure she had glimpsed him sitting on that park bench just a moment ago. She called again.
Not obtaining a response, she forced her way through the monstrous hedges to look for him. She stumbled and fell, and painfully scraped her knee on the sharp, rogue brambles sticking out of the hedges. While she was examining the bleeding wound, she noticed that it had suddenly grown darker.
She looked up.
The hedges had closed in on her.
C.S. Bhagya lives in Bangalore, India. She is an undergraduate of psychology, English literature, and journalism.
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