Shashank Gargeshwari

VII Semester, Information Science and Engineering


She stood there in the middle of the room, her long, black hair catching stray moonlight. The pendant that I gave her was in her hand. She raised it to her lips, and kissed it. I felt relieved. But my relief soon turned into horror, as I screamed “NO! Don’t do it! We can talk this through!”

“Yes we can, but not here, and not now. Maybe later, when we meet again.”

She bit the pendant.

By the time she was dead, I had already cut through the bone of my index finger. What was left was just the skin that still held it together. I could hear them coming, so I ripped it off, and threw it into the fire.

After what I had been through, being a mule was the quickest way out.

*

War wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. The battlefield wasn’t littered with bodies, because people rarely died. Weeks would go by without a single round being fired. We didn’t have to worry about diseases or hunger because we had a steady supply of food and medicine from a nearby town, and the road to that town wasn’t easy to take. We spent most of the day getting drunk and roaming around town, with our guns strapped to our back. Everything was peaceful. Then again, we weren’t army of ten thousand going up against another ten thousand. Our unit had sixteen people. We had no mules on our team. There was another team further back, which consisted of 39 people, of which 3 were mules. The opposite side was even smaller, consisting of 17 men armed with outdated guns and very little to no tactical ability. They had taken 8 girls hostage, and we had to bring them back. Not really a big deal. I was pretty confident that we would get it done in two weeks.

*

I saw her every day, fetching water for the camp. There was no one around, but I was pretty sure that a there was a man somewhere higher up, with his crosshairs aimed at her head, ready to pull the trigger the moment she showed even the slightest sign of running away. We had to take him down. My partner was next to me, his rifle resting on the ground. I was his spotter. Over the past three years, we had taken down 21 enemy snipers. I was good at spotting people; he was good at taking them out. But all I could see that day was her.

That’s the funny thing about snipers. The shot is heard long after the damage is done.

*

His hand had already exploded into bits when I heard the fatal shot. He was unconscious. Maybe it was better that way. I carried him to a safer place. His arm was intact, but he had lost everything below the elbow. Just as I was wrapping his hand with his shirt, he got up. He looked around in confusion. Then he looked down at his own arm. He opened his mouth wide, letting out a silent scream. He was a mule.

“Take me down to the river. It’ll be easier to bury me there. The sand is soft. If I’m lucky, it’ll rain and the river will take me down to the sea.”

*

I returned to the camp and reported him missing. Just as we were about to go out searching for him, it started raining. The lucky bastard. He got his wish.

We used to jokingly say that a man without an index finger wasn’t a man at all, because he could neither wield a gun nor a sword. I guess it also had to do with plain old superstition. People used to say that we pass on our bad luck to other people by pointing at them. A mule was supposed to have so much bad luck, that Fate decided to claim his index finger. I always thought it was silly, but here on the battleground, a man could never have enough luck. I saw the true horror of it when we had our first mule. Things got a lot more serious. The Mule was chosen for the most demeaning jobs possible. He was given neither the respect, nor the privileges that he deserved. Within a week, things had gotten so bad that he volunteered for a fatal mission. He was granted permission. All our snipers had their guns aimed at the forest surrounding ground zero. The Mule, as instructed, ran wildly in the open, waving his knife above his head. An opportunity the enemy couldn’t miss. Just as I saw a flash of light in the distance, he dropped dead.   My partner had seen it too, because the next moment, he fired at it. The bullet hit its mark.

An enemy for a Mule. It was a bargain.

*

The girl I used to watch every day came to me when I was alone in the woods. She had snuck out of her camp when they were switching guards. She gave me a hand drawn map of their stronghold. Valuable. She also told me that half the girls were already wielding guns for the enemy. She told me that they were all carrying Terusu, and would stop at nothing to protect the stronghold. She said that she had resisted the enemy for long. I could have guessed that myself from the gashes on her back. I was filled with rage. I promised her that I would rescue her in a month. I removed the pendant that my Mama gave me and gave it to her. She wore it around her neck. She kissed me, and ran off into the wilderness. I smiled. She was a caterpillar trapped in a cocoon. I would free her from it. I vowed that I would.

*

Terusu was a red liquid extracted from the Terusu frog. A drop was enough to kill you. But it would be drawn out and painful. The enemy would carry it around in small vials. If they felt threatened, they would bite these vials. What happened next was truly gruesome, both to them and the people watching them. There were many other “more efficient” toxins, but Terusu was a favorite for its shock value. Because the last thing they wanted when they died was to see the horror in their enemies’ eyes.

*

We had taken out most of the gunmen. The few that escaped could be tracked down easily. We let them go. We had killed three of the girls. The rest had either taken Terusu, or were still hiding in the building. I searched frantically for her. I had seen her earlier. She had a gun. I had to be careful. But I didn’t care. All I wanted to do now was see her. Just as I entered a room, she pushed me into it and latched the door. She put her finger on my lips and I fell silent. She was mine! I had kept my word, and she was mine!

*

She stood there in the middle of the room, her long, black hair catching stray moonlight. The pendant that I gave her was in her hand. She raised it to her lips, and kissed it. I felt relieved. But my relief soon turned into horror, as I screamed “NO! Don’t do it! We can talk this through!”

“Yes we can, but not here, and not now. Maybe later, when we meet again.”

She bit the pendant.

Red liquid flowed into her mouth. It didn’t look like blood.

She chose her “saviors” over me. I chose my “love” over my comrades.

Everyone changes, just like a caterpillar in a cocoon. We turned ugly after the transformation.

As they carried me back to the camp, I raised our pendant to my lips.

We will talk it through my love. We will talk it through.

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