The First Job

His veins were pounding blood at twice the normal rate. Short gasps now struggled to draw enough air to fill his lungs. He could barely think, it was already upon him. He would have looked back, he really wanted to.He could feel it’s breath on his back, the hairs on his neck stood up with the warmth of its breath. He knew who it was, although right now he couldn’t tell exactly. He hadn’t seen it, but somehow he just knew. He had no time to think why he felt that way.

He raced through the darkness as if he knew the way. The ground below his feet was wet from the rain that had lashed the city over the last few days. With every step he threw wet mud into the air, staining the dark green leaves around with brown patches. The full moon highlighted his tall lanky figure between the dense foliage that engulfed him as he flashed through it like a gazelle. There wasn’t much difference between him and a hunted prey, he thought.

He brushed past little branches that left scratches on his arms and legs. Blood oozed from the sores of his feet as stones cut in from every time he landed. He couldn’t suppress tears, to be frank he didn’t even sense them. Fear enables those primitive instincts in a man that ensure that the higher functions, the rational faculties take a back seat. Man reacts instinctively, almost as if he was programmed to know what to do in such circumstances. Thank God for that.

Running through the dark forest he came upon a tiny stream and jumped over it. He landed on the other side, his feet met a slimy surface and found no resistance, minimal friction and slipped. His hands flew up in the air, trying to grab something, anything. In an instant he was on the ground, his head banged on a rock and a few micro-seconds later his brain registered the impact. Searing pain suddenly burst upon him, it seemed to pain all over for a few seconds. Then it subsided and he felt the pain focusing itself on his head. A loud throb told him he was alive. He didn’t know if it was such a great thing. He would have preferred anything over the misery he felt that instant.

For those few seconds he had forgotten the thing he was running from. Rustling sounds behind him made him aware of it once again. He could make out footsteps closing in on him. He tried turning around, but his body didn’t oblige. His head hurt too much to make the effort. He lay there waiting for the thing to show itself. He knew it would end soon for him. He lay there waiting.

Water splashed on him as it moved closer. It gasped for breath as it stood behind him. For a few seconds nothing happened. All he could hear was the slowing of its breath. He turned his head up, there was nothing there. Just the moon, full and round. A bright star or maybe Venus shined brightly next to the moon. Somewhere bells rang, possibly in a temple he thought. The throbbing had now acquired a consistent rhythm, his breathing had slowed down too.

He turned his head around, still lying on his back. It was the shoes that he saw first, white, mud stained canvas shoes. Slowly he turned his head upwards. Two legs stood over him and in place of a head was….was… a rock! A ROCKKK!! A big, spherical rock…held between two hands…long slimy fingers held it. His eyes followed the rock as it started coming closer, moving down. Everything else receded into the background. The rock became bigger and bigger. His eyes remained transfixed, the rock reflected in them. His pupils dilated and grew bigger. For a few brief moments the rock hung there, in mid air. And he stared right back at it, listlessly.

It was then that he suddenly realized that the rock was meant to reduce his head to pulp. Sweat broke all over him and hair all over his body stood on their ends. Fear returned and the rock acquired previously unseen edges. It was still coming towards his head, slowly, too slowly he thought. The slowness only gave him more time to cower. He should have screamed but he didn’t. His hands should have covered his face, but they didn’t. He was too shocked, stunned to do anything.

And then the rock suddenly acquired speed. It came hurtling down upon him.

A foot away….

And then a few inches….time slowed but the rock didn’t. It was centimeters from touching his nose, he closed his eyes, bracing for the inevitable.

THUD!!!
AAAHHHHHHH………

The scream rent the air. He opened his eyes, terrified of what had happened and what was to follow. He looked around to find himself in a strangely familiar looking room. His heart beat still raced at 90 per second, slowing with every second. He was in his bed room, sitting on his bed. He didn’t understand for a few moments, confused.

It was then that reality dawned on him and he realized that he had been dreaming. I know it because I was there, standing behind a pillar, hoping he would go back to sleep. But he didn’t. Instead he got up and walked to the window and opened it. Suddenly the room was filled with bright light, evidence of a full moon night. He stood there letting the sweet smell of damp earth fill the air inside the room. Then he turned towards the pillar I was hiding behind. My fingers clenched the knife strongly, ready to plunge it into his soft flesh.

But he turned and opened the refrigerator, picking out a bottle of milk and took a sip. His back to me, he took in a couple of more sips before returning the bottle to its place. As I readied myself for the job, sweat streamed down my forehead. My grip wavered as I grasped too hard on the knife. This was my first job and I didn’t want to mess it up. I steadied myself, took a deep breath and braced for the assault. He was only a step away from me when I raised the knife.

I don’t know how or why he did it, but he ducked sideways, letting the knife slice through thin air. I stumbled while he balanced himself and kicked me on my left knee. I fell with the knife still in my hand, accidentally hitting him on the shoulder as I fell next to him. He shrieked in sudden pain and both of us lay next to each other for a brief few moments.

I turned quickly raising the knife again to bring it down on him, but he had rolled away and was running to the door. Before I could get up he had opened the door and was racing down the stairs. I hobbled on my feet and ran after him. I came out of the building just in time to see him disappear into the bushes.

The next moment I was running furiously after him through a dense forest. The moon lit night made it easy for me to see him. On any other day (or night) I would have caught him in no time, but tonight I struggled with the hobbling knee, barely running, almost limping.

Puddles of muddy water made a splashing sound as we ran blindly through the forest. Dense foliage made it difficult for me to keep him in view consistently but every now and then the forest would part way for me to get a sight of him. He was running like a gazelle, leaping over small bushes and rocks. For a bit I thought I saw sweat streaming down his legs and then he was gobbled up by the forest.
In an instance I was where he was just a few seconds back. I moved the branches hanging in front of me and saw an opening. He was to be seen nowhere. A sweet murmur filled the air as my eyes traced the source, I saw them both. The stream making the sound and him lying across the stream wriggling as if caught in a trap. I realized he had slipped on the mossy rocks on the other side. He seemed to be in pain, moaning softly. For a moment a feeling of pity came over me. I observed this peculiar feeling for a while as it left of its own volition. I walked slowly towards him.

I looked around for something, a weapon, I had lost my knife in the chase. A rock jutted out of the ground near where he lay. I picked it up, bending slowly. The knee hurt as I bent down, it must be fractured I thought. This job had proved costlier than I had imagined. And more painful.

He wasn’t going anywhere, his head was bleeding. With shuffling feet I carried the rock towards him. That rock would be last thing he would see. I stood over him and raised it slowly.

The rock was heavy and gravity eager. The next instance it was falling at 9.8 m/s towards his head.

THUDDD!!!!

The sound was loud and reverberated in my head. I opened my eyes and found myself lying on my bed.

How was it possible? It was too vivid, too clear. No it couldn’t be. I couldn’t be dreaming. It was much too clear, clearer then the moment there when I sat thinking about it on my bed. And what kind of a dream was it? What did it mean? Who was the man?
I shook my head and got up. The air in the room was stuffy, I opened a window. A full moon hung up in the sky, lighting everything around like a Chinese candle. I let the cool breeze wash over me, calming my jangled nerves, still wondering about the lucidity of the dream. A couple of minutes later I was back to normal.

As I turned something on the table caught my eyes. A small paper lay on the table, with something scribbled on it. I picked it up, and read it.

Address – B 1604, Oberoi Towers, Malad (West)

I turned it around and instantly froze. It was a photo, of the same man.

The man from my dream.

I stared with wide unblinking eyes at the photo for a few moments. Something else lay on the table. I picked it up, and ran my fingers over the sharp edge. The weapon was there, so was the subject. And the address.

I had a job to do tonight. This would be my first job.

– Arun Fulara

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