This is the second entry I had written for the short story contest as a part of the Indian Bloggers' League Semifinal (don't ask!). As expected, my story - just like the previous one - did not make the East Zone shortlist for the same reason: it was inferior to the one that got selected.
The reason that I wrote it was that I was not really happy with the previous story. This went in as a last-minute entry. All in vain, though. Sigh. Little did I realise that the winning entry would have been significantly better.
Anyway, I guess I should publish this one on my blog as well. As before we were asked to write something within 1,500 words on the picture below, and this is what I had come up with:
Long, long ago, way before motorbikes, credit cards or chocolate soufflé were invented, there lived a boy in a faraway land. He was fourteen (well, not always; he was fourteen for a year, at the time of the events of the story), had a pimply face, and did not have a name.
They used to call him ‘Boy’. They used to call all boys ‘Boy’ and all girls ‘Girl’, but we’re not going into that. We’ll be talking mostly about one boy in this story. Let us give him a name first, though – something really innovative and respectable. Let us call him Lad.
Lad had an irritating presence as all fourteen-year old boys often do. They are typically too old to be mollycoddled and too young to be taken seriously. He managed to annoy his parents, he managed to annoy his grandparents, and he managed to annoy everyone in the neighbourhood. Irritating others by sheer presence was his forte, and he lived up to his reputation.
Lad often frequented the shallow gorge that separated the villages. He sat down there for hours, hidden from his villages, taking the occasional moment to cast furtive glances as his crush (let us get innovative again and name her Lass) as she passed by.
It had not rained that year. The two villages on either side of the gorge (we won’t get innovative anymore; we will simply call them Lad’s Village and Lass’ Village) had almost run out of drinking water. Even the wells had turned them down.
Trees had been decaying; farming took a serious toll; livestock was killed off to save water. The priests of both villages had prayed to the Gods and had offered slow-roasted cabbages and char-grilled goat hocks but to no avail.
Lad knew when the elders of the village were supposed to meet that day. He tiptoed to a safe nook just outside the clearing where the gathering was supposed to happen. Fourteen-year old boys often think of eavesdropping as a really cool activity. Lad was no exception.
What Lad got to know was not really something he liked. For someone with a presence that irksome he had the audacity of possessing a very clear range of thoughts. The elders had decided to wage war on Lass’ village; they wanted to put everyone to sword, burn down their houses, and rob them of their stock of drinking water.
This was certainly not good news. Lass’ father, a lumberjack, was the chieftain of his village and would definitely be among the first ones to be slain. If Lad’s village went on to win the battle they would slaughter everyone and do those things to the girls that the elders talked about but always prevented him from knowing.
No, he had to stop this. He could not let Lass face something like this. He had a feeling that whatever it was, it wasn’t good for Lass.
Lad sneaked away, crossed the gorge, and went to the village on the other side. He found Lass almost immediately and tried to tell her everything – but to his utter surprise Lass shrieked and gathered virtually everyone in the village.
Poor Lad! How was he supposed to know that cornering a girl when she was alone was not considered good manners? The elders of Lass’ village eyed him suspiciously, some of them with vicious-looking weapons.
This was better in a way, thought Lad. This way I can tell them everything.
So Lad told them. And they believed him.
So Lass’ village got ready.
So Lass thought Lad was a hero.
There was a minor problem, though. Lass’ village went on to carry out the same actions on Lad’s village: to kill the men, to set fire to the houses, to do those things to the girls that Lad was clueless about, and to take away all their water.
Lad stared at them blankly. They ignored his looks. Then one of them told him “you need not fear; you can stay with us”. Lad did not believe him.
No, this was not good. He had to stop this.
As Lass’ village prepared themselves for the war Lad cast what he knew was one last look at Lass. He walked back towards his own village. He never knew that her eyes had followed him on his way back. He sat down in the gorge – the only place where he could watch both armies advance.
They arrived sooner than he had expected. Lad was ready. He had prepared a mound of sorts. He stood up on the mound and shouted at both armies to stop. He begged them to retreat. Rain would surely arrive in a couple of days, he pleaded.
They did not listen to Lad. With blood in their eyes and gleaming weapons in their hands, they tore down upon each other. Flesh was ripped, skulls were smashed, and limbs were torn apart.
Lad had tried to stop them and was the first to be killed in the war: the pimply boy who went about annoying everyone in the village didn’t even know who had struck him the first blow. It might well have been his father.
The women were a part of it as well: they had always fought alongside men in combats, and did not shy away here as well. They advanced with fierce determination and struck the most ruthless of blows, massacring people with the same ferocity as their male counterparts.
It came to an end after a while. Not a single person survived. The dry, parched earth was soaked with the blood of the dead. Man and woman, adult and child lay together, heaped on each other’s corpses. The water they had fought for had remained intact.
Then came the rain. It rained like it had never rained before. It rained for days at a stretch. The rain washed away the blood and clothes. The rain made the flesh of the deceased rot before the maggots could do anything to them.
It lasted for ten full days, turning the gorge into a brook. Fresh leaves appeared on the trees making them look young all over again. The world seemed to be at peace.
And then, from her parents’ hut, out stepped Lass. She was the only one who had not been to the war. She had been hiding, feeding herself on corn kernels and rainwater for the past ten days and had finally mustered the courage to come out in the open.
She reached the gorge, which, as you know, had turned into a brook by now. She saw something and knelt down: it was Lad. Somehow the rain had decided not to wash Lad away. What was more, he was left intact: the rain seemed to have washed away his wounds and had left him unblemished – taking away even his pimples.
Why, if you looked at him now you might as thought the feeling that Lad was a quite handsome, eligible boy! He could even have been smiling in his sleep!
Lass smiled as well. Lad was somehow stuck in one of the alcoves of the newly-formed brook. The current had not been able to take him away.
Lass took Lad by the hand. He did not seem heavy at all. She dragged him gently and placed him on the ground next to the brook, and smiled again. She buried him afterwards. It took her hours, but she did all of it with a smile on her face.
Then she walked back to her parents’ hut. The axe was there, as were the carpenter’s equipments that had once belonged to her uncle.
Lad would not have cared for a tombstone in his memory. He would have loved a bridge between the two villages, Lass thought. Especially over the mound he had built.
Her face broke into that charming smile that had used to turn up in Lad’s dream till ten nights back. It would take time, but she was certainly not in a hurry.