This story was written as part of the Wrimo India’s SAW (Story a week) challenge. The challenge involves writing as per a prompt given that week.
We’re living through one of the most unprecedented of times. Astrologers say it is the very first time that Pluto, Jupiter and Saturn are together in the same house (since 1776 which if you remember your history well is when the United States of America was formed). Collateral damage is bound to happen when 3 biggies get together, for better or worse.
Write a story using any or all of the above elements (pandemic, astrology, Pluto, Jupiter, Saturn, birth of USA, collateral damage).
Hiroo took another round of the streets and entered the market. All streets were empty, not a soul around. There were no cars on the road, no honking, no vendors in the market. Hiroo saw a basket of vegetables on the floor. He examined it and realized it was stale. He had never seen market this empty, except for the night time. Following a soft buzz he reached a nearby tree. The sound was coming from the beehive up in the branches. “How long has it been there?” He wondered to himself.
Surprisingly, the concrete benches put around the tree were empty too. He felt exhilarated to sit on one of them. Ever since the benches were installed last year, he wanted to sit there. But he never found a single spot there. It used to be overcrowded with people tired from shopping in the market resting there, or mothers feeding their children. But most of the times the benches were filled with people gossiping about those who were absent at the discussion.
Everything seemed quiet today, too quiet. It felt weird. “Where is everyone?” he muttered. Soon he got bored sitting there all by himself. He got up and headed to the KT corner.
KT corner was their regular meeting point. Hiroo and his friends would idle at KT corner all day. He thought maybe someone there might know what is going on. As expected everyone was there except him and Ken. But they all seemed as clueless as him.
“Do you think the Collectors took them all this morning?” Raju asked nervously. At the mention of ‘Collectors’, everybody became alert. They all looked around instinctively, hearing carefully for any signs. “Have any of you seen Ken?” Hiroo asked. Everybody looked at each other blankly. None of them heard from Ken since yesterday. Raju shifted uncomfortably. “Do you think he too…….like Viki?” The thought had probably crossed everyone’s mind but nobody dared say it. The silence made Hiroo uneasy. “No, I don’t think so. Ken is smart. He will alert us in time. Right?” Hiroo looked around for an answer. “Huh! Smart!” Sweety snorted. “He was the only one eager to take up the job. If you thought he was not up to the job, you should have taken it up” Hiroo said defensively. “Thanks to his smart a$#, we would be all soon heading to the ‘Place'”. The word ‘Place’ ignited fury among them. Sweety called Hiroo names. Hiroo in his defense, shouted back at her. Soon they all got divided into two teams, shouting and blaming each other. Among all the ruckus, Raju started crying loudly.
“Shhhh shhhh shhhhh….. Guys be quiet!” Naina raised her voice. “What? Did you hear something?” Everyone became alert again. “No, but by making so much noise we will only attract the Collectors if they are nearby. Be quiet until we know for sure what is going on” The word ‘Collectors’ worked its magic. Everybody was quiet again. They all listened intently. Raju was still shaking from the muffled sobs. “We don’t know yet if the collectors are really here” Naina tried to calm everyone down.
“Maybe…” Raju found his voice again. “Swamiji’s prophecy is coming true. That we will once again rule the land. He said it happened many lifetimes ago. He had predicted that it will happen again. Maybe our time has come!” he exclaimed. Nobody seemed convinced. They all agreed that nothing Swamiji said ever came true.
Naina suggested that they all go to Ken and find out what is going on. But the idea didn’t appeal to many. It would be walking to their deaths. Another argument erupted over whether they should visit Ken or not. Naina rolled her eyes. “Keep your voices down!” she shouted angrily at the top of her voice. But nobody was in a mood to listen to her. Naina sat on a nearby rock watching them all fight. She sighed deeply watching for any signs of trouble while they fought. After a long brawl, Hiroo got tired and sat next to her to catch his breath.
“Let’s go to Ken, just you and me” she said to Hiroo. Hiroo wasn’t sure. “We will watch every step carefully. We can maybe take the Halwai lane. That way we can hide quickly if we have to”. Finally Hiroo agreed. They both got up and announced that they were going to visit Ken through the Halwai lane. Others were welcome to join if they wanted or they could wait for their return. “What if you don’t return?” Raju asked. Hiroo felt like punching him in his face. Naina stopped him and suggested they all should go to their hiding places if they don’t return for a long time. “What if the Collectors come here when you are gone?” Raju asked again. “Then give them our whereabouts and hiding spots in the Halwai lane, will you?” Naina snapped back losing her calm. Seeing that Raju may erupt into tears again, Naina nudged Hiroo to leave. A few of the friends joined them while others stayed behind, Raju and Sweety among the ones staying behind.
All the shops in the Halwai lane were closed. No tempting smells of fresh samosas and jalebis. No vehicles parked haphazardly in the street. Murali usually kept his shutter half open even when everything else was closed during political rallies or bands. But his shutter was completely shut too. This warranted concern. Instead of the sounds coming from the shops, they heard some sparrows in the tree. Something unnatural was happening. As they reached the end of the lane, they all became cautious, taking every step vigilantly. They were ready to run away at the slightest sound or movement.
Ken lived at the intersection of the highway and the city streets. Usually this is where the Collectors’ vehicle would enter their neighbourhood. Their vehicle was distinctly marked. Until last month, Viky was designated to keep an eye on the vehicle and alert them all. They all had their designated hiding spots to avoid being caught. Viky’s alert would give them enough time to hide for a few hours. Over the years, they had lost many friends to ‘Collectors’. And yet it was most painful when Viky was caught and taken away last month. They didn’t say thanks to him for saving them all these years. It was said that Collectors took their friends to the ‘Place’ and then they never saw them again. They were probably all dead. But the ‘Collectors’ had always taken one of them, never a human!
They heard a commotion ahead. Naina peeked outside the lane. There stood many people right in the middle of the highway which was generally jam packed. There were police vans all around the gathering. All the people gathered in the middle were being reprimanded for something. Some of them were being beaten by the policemen. And there sat Ken at the edge of it all, looking amused. He was enjoying the entertainment.
They slipped next to Ken without attracting too much attention. “What is going on?” Naina asked Ken.
“It seems that Swamiji’s prophecy is coming true” Ken said amused. “The policemen have been making announcements. Humans are not allowed to step outside their homes. Some deadly virus is killing them all!” he exclaimed. “What virus?” Hiroo got concerned. “Relax! Apparently, it affects only humans, none of the animals or birds” “What happens if they step out? Are they taken to the ‘Place’?” Naina asked. “They are taken somewhere, but I don’t know where. They probably die there, so maybe yes, maybe they are being taken to the ‘Place’. So many years of taking us there. Humans are paying for their actions!” Ken said.
They all watched as policemen drove all the humans away, back to their homes. Everything became quiet again. The roads were empty for them to stroll freely without a worry in the world. Swamiji was right, it was time for stray dogs to rule the land!