This story is loosely based on true events
Tripping over exposed roots of trees, slipping on mossy stones, trying, at the same time, to avoid stepping on the innumerable colonies of ants that walked the same path he was flying along, he ran.
His eye, infected now, as it had been for a few days, was water-logged to the point of blindness. He could only use his left eye, his right was gone for all money. His ankle bled from one of the many falls he suffered while tearing through the forests of Meghalaya. He cursed the decision he made that morning to wear slippers instead of his shoes. Slippers were no help at top speed, much less downhill.
And yet, as fast as he ran, endangering his life as he did so, he never stopped looking over his shoulder. His face, unused to expressiveness even in moments of heightened emotion, betrayed on its countenance a rare flicker of fear. This was not irrational paranoia. This was a flight for survival.
My life had been lethargic, comfortable, secure. There was no animosity to contend with, there was no obstacle to overcome, no challenge to my abilities. As often happens to one faced with luxury and comfort, I stagnated. I allowed my instincts to grow dull, I dropped my guard, I became complacent.
In my defense, not even the most diabolical creature of my species (canine) would have dreamt of what transpired. The uncouthness, the unabashed vulgarity, the pure, putrified evil implicit in the horrific act that was to become the single most traumatic experience of my life was beyond the intellectual capabilities of even the foulest minds that roamed the earth. Not all the morbid legends or folk tales on earth would have prepared me for this ordeal. And, drowned as I was in a dazed stupor, the act affected my unprepared mind far more adversely than it would otherwise have.
It happened so suddenly. There was no premonition of doom, no feelings of foreboding, no hint of the malaise that my life was thenceforth to be stricken by. I was lounging under the shade of a tree, protecting myself from the ferocity of a sun that made its appearance only rarely, but sizzled with a vengeance when it did so. Next to the tree stood an old shack. Not big, by any stretch of the imagination, but sufficient for its purpose. Around me, a couple of hens went about their business with their customary energy. Such was the languor everpresent in the canines present in the area, that the hens did not even glance my way, comfortable in the knowledge that it was more probable for hell to freeze over than for me to voluntarily exert myself in pursuit of food.
I, too, did not pay them much heed, but, tongue lolling out, continued to doze the afternoon away. Vaguely, my ears detected unfamiliar voices in the house above. They appeared to be visitors. Tourists, probably. Their voices, sounding tired, yet exhilarated, subdued into the silence that the appearance of food tends to impose on famished humans. The silence, in combination with the oppressive heat, succeeded in lulling me to sleep, and I had just begun to view those primitive manifestations of our unconscious that represent canine dreams, when the fateful deed took place.
I was awoken, rudely and abruptly, by a splash accompanied by the discomfort and disgust that naturally comes along with sticky liquid being spilt over you. Jumping up, I glanced back at my body and saw, to my horror, a red, gooey liquid splashed across my back, and dripping down my fur. My first thought was that I was bleeding, and I bolted, squealing in fear. However, the absence of pain (except for mental anguish) made me reconsider. I checked again, and saw that it was some devilish concoction that had come straight from the Devil himself.
Nay, friends, I do not exaggerate for the purpose of drama. On that day, I looked the devil in the eye. Standing nonchalantly at the balcony of the old house, stood a man of terrible mien. His hair, damp and greasy, clung to his face on both sides. His arm contained satanic artistry, some paganistic representation of the antichrist, I suspect. To me, it just seemed like a geometric pattern, but then I am not well versed in the language of Satan. The black tongue may well hide its foulness beneath the beautiful and distracting shapes of Geometry. It would be typical of its deceit.
A coarse brush of hair also adorned his face. Not an intimidating beard in any way, but it served to deepen the feeling of unease that I felt on regarding that face. And then I noticed the aspect that was to convince me that this was no act of innocence that was perpetrated because of an unfortunate coincidence, but a premeditated act of evil, performed in cold blood. That aspect was his eyes.
One eye was completely normal, one may have mistaken it for a human eye, but the second one was evil manifest. It was engorged, bloodshot, throbbing with the energy of unknown parasites and pestilences. Overall, one word loomed large in my head as I regarded this specimen that tried to pass itself off as human.
Frantic, I turned away and ran, lest from prolonged exposure I get tainted by the smell of hell. Seeking out my comrades, I happened upon them while they were in the middle of their monthly ritual sacrifice. Canines are a superstitious species at the best of times, but the effect of my dramatic entrance, drenched in a mysterious, bloodlike substance, while spouting incoherent half sentences about a Devil’s spit and the Satanic Eye took on exaggeratedly demonic overtones in the eyes of even the most stolid of my brethren. Immediately, I saw the circle of friends and family retreat from me in horror. My own mother looked at me, her gaze slightly askew, as if the mark of red had corrupted her son and turned him onto something less than canine. Suddenly, I regretted my candid admission and saw the naivete of my confession. The wise course would have been to remove all vestiges of evidence of the episode and to cope with it as best as I could. But it was too late to turn back now. I was in the deep end and had to see it through, for better or for worse.
Suddenly a cloud smothered the might of the sun within its wooly depths. The clearing turned gloomy, like a Manchester evening. The gang, already suspicious, took this omen to heart. A growl arose around him, one that sent chills down my spine.
“Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Thus chanted those whose company and fraternity I had cherished all my life. Thus castigated I found myself by virtue of a single abdominal occurrence, one over which I had no control.
Before I knew it, I was surrounded and being escorted to the place every dog dreaded even looking at. And I knew my ordeal was not to be that of a spectator’s. Something much worse was in store for me.
The waterfall loomed large, a gargantuan 550-ft cascade that did not know the meaning of relenting. The tonnes of water gushing forth every second pummeled down onto a flat rock, a rock that may well have been beautifully spherical originally, but bowed to the might of the waterfall and, over thousands of years, molded its shape into that of a receptacle, submissively bearing the ceaseless onslaught from above. No dog had ever reached that rock and lived to tell the tale. Legends told of a mighty ancestor who was half-wolf, and braved the rapids and stood unbowed on the rock, cubic litres of water notwithstanding. But I knew better than to attribute much truth to these tales. I had little to no hope of coming out of this alive. And I knew my kind too well to try to plead my way out of it. Since the beginning of time, when a dog was rendered impure for whatever reason, this was the stipulated rite of cleansing. If the dog died, as it invariably did, the tribe accepted that the sin was too great to be cleansed, and so the spirit had to be recalled to the Great One, that it may become pure again. Countless canines had thus been cleansed.
The saccharine approach of death, manifested as it was in the spray emanating from the waterfall, took on a spiritual significance for me, and still does today. My mother accompanied me to the edge of the rapids and, without so much as a whispered blessing, left me to my fate and rejoined the clan.
At this point, a seismic shift took place within me, psychologically speaking. I resolved, even in the face of these incredibly skewed odds, not to give in to despair. I resolved not to die, to live, as Alice in Chains sang, long enough to repay all who caused strife. I had resolved, with nothing to aid my but vengeful fury, to avenge myself on Satan himself.
Taking a deep breath, I launched myself to the right of the rock, so as to compensate for the strength of the current. Ten desperate seconds later, clinging to life with every ounce of my strength, I found myself crushed against the rock by an almighty force. Another fifteen seconds and I was now on the rock, rendered prone by the majestic power of the fall. It was wonderfall.
Amidst the jubilant howls of my brethren, I felt Nature work its magic. All the stigma, all the filth that had seeped into my being, I felt its purgation. My very pores reveled in their freshness, the way a new leaf revels in the sparkling sunlight after a prolonged shower.
The rest of it was easy. The return to the riverside, the wild celebrations of my clan, the look of guilt-ridden jubilation on my mother’s face, all these visions flitted before my eyes with a surrealist feel to them. I felt detached, removed. My mind, up until now so overloaded with shame, fear and confusion, was now serene and focused. All the menial squabbles receded into the distant horizons of his mind, and the image of the red-eyed monster filled my head.
Extricating myself from the crowd, I cast my nose into the air, scouring the breeze for the scent of evil. It was not hard to find. The stench of that red filth is one I would never be able to forget.
Setting off at a brisk pace, I began the chase. I did not really have a plan of action in mind, I just trusted my instinct. These paths were made for small people, much smaller in stature than the Evil One. He could not have gotten too far. I was confident I’d catch him in an hour or so.
His face dripping with sweat, muscles on the verge of giving in to the agony they had been subjected to for the past two hours, the man’s eyes (both the read and the white) bulged from his head, making a grotesque image of his face. And yet, as much as he would love a rest, he could hear the steady rustling of leaves drawing ever closer as the beast that chased him refused to slow down.
Finally, climbing over a large-ish boulder, realizing that his legs no longer had the strength to carry out the task he asked of them, the man collapsed in a heap at the side of the path, resigned to meet whatever his future held for him. Lying on the grass, out of breath, he did not find in him even the strength to swat away the ants that were making meals of his legs.
The ants were soon forgotten, however, as presently he heard a menacing growl from above the boulder he had just cast himself off. The growl was an admixture of anger, anticipation and a terrible sense of relish.
The man raised his head and saw, hurtling through the air, a beast with bared claws and teeth and an expression of the purest fury.
Two weeks later: In U.P.
The man lay on his threadbare mattress, legs stretched out before him. His eyes were covered by his arm, which he had draped across his face. The snores were interrupted by grunts of pain whenever the sleeping man attempted a change of position. Closer inspection would reveal the man was missing two fingers, and his torso was heavily bandages. On moving his arm from his face, one could also see a bandage covering the whole of one eye. The surviving eye was white and quite average looking.
The man reflected on his misfortunes, his red-stained mouth was turned downwards at the sides in an expression of constant grief. And yet, the deadpan face still held much of its characteristic reserve and determination. The man knew that to be alive at all, being what he had been through, was something he should cherish. Even if he had lost an eye and a few fingers. The beast had lost much more. It had lost its life.
Smiling contemptuously at the memory of the squeals of pain the canine had emitted in its last moments before it succumbed to its undignified death, the man turned onto his side and, mind at ease, tried to go back to sleep.
And then, over the sound of his ceiling fan and the paan sellers outside his house, he heard a sound that was to ensure he would never sleep easy again. He heard the same, spine-chilling growl that had precipitated his battle a fortnight ago. Frantically looking about him, he saw a shape outside the window. Training his solitary eye onto the shape, he discerned the beast. There were no two ways about it, it was the same one he thought he had killed. Or, at least, in most respects it was. There were just a couple of differences that only served to deepen the feeling of impending doom he felt creep upon him.
The beast, baring its fangs, was frothing. Foam spilled between the crevices of its teeth and dripped down the sides of its mouth. And, though the lighting was not the best, the man could have sworn that the foam was red. The same doubt crept into his mind with regard to the beast’s eye. Staring back at him from the window were two canine eyes. One of them white, and one decidedly red.