The night is darkest before the dawn, but the coming of dawn is inevitable. When the sun broke through the wispy darkness and the first streaks of gold illuminated the sky, Myra was already on the rooftop, gazing into the distance. It had been too much. It had all been just a little over what she could control and she had needed the break.
She hadnt cried, but her heart had bled enough already through the day. She allowed herself another flashback, another peek into the painful past, to try and find once again just what had gone wrong… how could she have avoided it all….
It had been a Saturday like any other. She had stood proud in front of the mirror, smiling, rubbing her bulging belly anticipating the day in the sun with him. His return, which she sorely missed, she had thought about for weeks on end, each time ending with a smile. It was apparent she loved him. She couldn’t hide it even if she wanted to. Thoughts of him beamed and penetrated her skull radiating a glow of passion from her face. The dress she wore accentuated her curves and increasing bust. She looked again into the mirror; smiling again, imagining his approval of her obvious femininity.
Hours later she stood at their usual rendezvous. She was thirty minutes early. He didn’t like to wait and she had thought of buying flowers anyway; the kind he had bought for her so many times before. As the hands of the chronometer on her wrist approached their agreed time she felt a nervousness around her. It had been just under three months since they had last met and her body longed for his embrace. To keep herself from being bored she dived into the archives of her memories of them together; the time and the happiness they had shared. It made her smile even more, wishing she could somehow manipulate the laws of time and space to her favour.
From a distance she spotted him; his obvious swagger and proud head setting him apart from the rest. She jumped to her feet and dusted the imaginary dust off her clean dress. She wanted to look her best for him. Her face radiated even more and the smile on her face told of the deepest passion and nostalgia. She put her hands behind her back, trying to hide the evident flowers in her hand. To an ignorant by-stander, she looked like an overgrown child waiting for the prize she had won at the fair.
Behind the dark shades his eyes also had spotted her. She looked a little different from the last time they had spend the weekend at his exclusive lake-house, but maybe it was just that he hadn’t seen her in too long. He quickened his step a little bit to try and cut the time of their moments apart.
Being together again felt like reliving a dream. He was her Prince Charming, reincarnated. She, she always felt because of her humble background, was the lucky peasant girl who got to be with the Prince. Their love broke all rules and barriers. Their love was like no other, a perfect fairytale.
She hung onto him as they embraced; the flowers beating onto his back. As they drew slowly apart he smiled, showing a perfect set of teeth. Her legs melted, turning to wax at his smile. A tingle erupted across her whole body, quivering with intensity and waiting for him to draw her closer to him. He waited, the seconds seeming like eternity to her. Before he could say a word she rushed at him, her kiss impetuous.
But something was amiss. Something wasn’t quite right… She thought it was her. Maybe he wasn’t quite satisfied. So she pulled his arms around her belly, helping him feel the difference. She kissed him tenderly, letting her love free. But he didn’t kiss her back. Instead, there came a wave of difference between them, his expression cleared, the twinkle in his eye faded… he pulled back. He stared into her eyes, but she didn’t feel the warmth she did before, like she did in the lakehouse… she saw fear, even shock… and suddenly she felt cold. She moved her hand up his arm, rubbing it slowly, showing him she was there. But he had passed into a world nonchalant of their love, struck by some pain that was pulling him away. He broke away. He moved back. He was looking at her, and she couldn’t say anything. And then suddenly, he dropped his gaze to her belly… the curves rounder than before, how he couldn’t hold her the way she fit in his embrace before… and then she realised. Imagining his approval, beaming with the thought of his delight she had come. Would she leave with the dread of his disownment of his own child, she wondered. She moved forward… she trusted him, he would understand. She told herself, he would, he was just taken aback, they hadn’t met in a while and he would understand, she repeated to herself. But the horror in his eyes made it hard for her to accept that this was the man she had loved all this while, whose love she had succumbed to, with devotion.
There they stood, united with love, separated by fear, until at last, she let the warnings win. He wouldn’t come. Exhausted under the heavy sweep of that realisation, unsupported by his loving body, all alone and dismal, she fell back into the bench that had earlier occupied her ecstasy. She tried not to think of the time she had spent with him just next to her on that same bench, she tried not to think of the evenings at the lakehouse… she tried not to think of him standing still a few steps away. It was his move. He had to decide if he was going to leave her or if he would give them a chance. With every minute that she waited, a pain plunged through her veins, faster and denser than the blood, hurting her fingers, numbing her toes, making her feel like bursting under the pressure, the confusion… and it originated from a sharp pierce of a dagger formed by her memories, brutally cutting her heart, while the rhythm in her belly kept it going. She moved a hand on her belly, in silent pleading for mercy but the only thing she received, was even more pain as he stood away, still.
She sighed. She felt like an old decaying woman, her soul soiled with shame and loneliness, her will decreasing. On perhaps the last of her energy, she lifted her tired body, walked with her head low towards him, and for a brief moment looked in his eyes. He still hadn’t accepted her, and now she knew it was too late. She took his face in her hands, kissed him gently on the lips, for the last time she realised, she pulled herself away while all of her wanted just to hold on, and stumbled away from him, back the same path she had come earlier, bouncing. The flowers had fallen, as lifeless as her. He didn’t even turn.
The dawn is inevitable they say… she would rather live a lie though, if the truth could hurt that much. She couldn’t have avoided it. She had been positive he would love her just as much now or perhaps more, but she had been wrong. She had been wrong because she had understood him wrong, and for that the dawn had had to come.
Silent now on the rooftop, as the sun warmed her, Myra knew it was over. Nothing they could say, nothing they could do would bring back the love, would ease out the pain… nothing they could do would hide his betrayal, they couldn’t be the same. She rubbed her bulging belly, wondering if it was a weed in her body, if she should kill all traces of him… but would she let him kill another heart, she thought. She waited for the dawns to send her the answer, and until then, she would give it a chance, just as she should have had one.
By Peter and Ruchika
Jameson was the ideal man. He kept a cat and was good to her. He owned a farm but he was no tiller. He let the people divide the produce when his idle gardening sprung tomatoes and chillies. He was regular to the local church and was a god-fearing man. He had no vice, save for one, that he was single. And the entire town frowned upon that. Jameson, the common verdict was, should choose a wife from the town’s dandies and complete himself. Only no one dared mention that in front of him.
“Mr. Summerhouse! Mr. Summerhouse, sir!” a young boy’s voice echoed in the silent building. The culprit then came into view, skidding inside the isolated house in a rush that seemed out of place in the tranquil.
Presently, he found the man he was calling for at his usual place, behind a desk with his head in his hands.
“Mr. Summerhouse, sir?” the lad repeated. “What is it, boy?” came a low groan from inside the cupped hands.
“It’s Jameson, sir… he’s- he’s dying.. again…”
On the mention of Jameson, Mr. Summerhouse sat up and frowned. Then a moment later he said “Stick, boy” and dusted himself. The boy brought him his oak cane, more for show than need, and Mr. Summerhouse clasped his fingers around the familiar brass knock. Then he sighed and set off with such speed that the boy ran to keep up.
“Gladis, where is he?” Mr. Summerhouse demanded, as he entered Jameson’s house. The cat purred and jumped up the stairs, like an athlete hearing the shotgun go off and lunging for the finish line. Mr. Summerhouse climbed behind her and his cane cracked on every step. He closed he door as he entered the room where Jameson lay. The cat coiled in the armchair, content with her role.
Mr. Summerhouse stood by the door and watched his son-in-law and felt morose. Jameson… his son-in-law…
“It’s happening again sir. She’s got me.” Jameson’s voice, weak with pain, broke through his thoughts.
“It’s been a long time Jameson. Why is she back?” Summerhouse asked though he knew the answers.
“It’s October sir. She’s back because its October. Elise is back.”
It had been a year ago. Elise Summerhouse was the happiest girl in town. Jameson had proposed to her, but they had kept it secret from everyone, they wanted it to be quiet. Mr. Summerhouse had got to know eventually though, he always did. But he approved so he kept their secret. That was last year. In October.
“James, is she talking to you again?”
“Not yet. She wants to say something-” the man was tired and his words broke “-but she can’t.” Mr. Summerhouse’s face fell.
A few days after she had proposed, Elise had gone to church and stayed there all morning. When she returned, she wasn’t like her usual self, she seemed worried. When Jameson asked her what the matter was, she joked she couldn’t decide what flowers to cover the church in for their wedding. He’d laughed though he knew she was lying.
Jameson groaned. He clutched his side and moaned and called out to Elise, in a whisper.
“Does it hurt?”
“Not as much as last time.”
“Son.” Mr. Summerhouse had tears in his eyes.
“Son, can’t we let the townspeople know?”
“What would that do? No sir, I don’t think she’d want us to tell.”
Mr. Summerhouse nodded, and let Jameson suffer. He wouldn’t allow a doctor because he couldn’t let anyone know. And he wouldn’t let anyone know because she wouldn’t. He wouldn’t betray Elise. Even in death.
Jameson gave a sudden loud cry, then covered his mouth, and inquired with his eyes. Mr. Summerhouse went over to the window and looked out. No. No one heard.
He looked out the window… a year ago, in October…
He could see the church top in the distance. A year ago, it had been weathered. Now, it had been painted a clean white, hiding the years it had lived. Just like it hidden Elise’s secret.
Elise had been talking to the pastor. She had confided everything in him as a child and she didn’t stop as a maiden. She had told him about the marriage but someone else had heard. A painful story… a jealous man, who wanted Elise for himself, had confronted her one evening behind the church and when she refused all his advances, he had killed her. Just like that.
Jameson had arrived just in time too see the ends of his black coat disappear around the corner, but he couldn’t follow, he was much too concerned for his beloved.
She was stabbed.
Jameson let a tear slip. “Sir… do you think… do you think she’ll ever forgive us?”
“For not being there with her… for letting that man…”
“I believe she won’t blame us for something we couldn’t control.” Even as Mr. Summerhouse said it, he knew he would forever live with the guilt.
Jameson hadn’t forgiven himself either. She had died that night.Elise had. Jameson had gone after that man. But that didn’t make it better.
Jameson cried freely now. He clutched his side tighter, touching the wound refreshed his memories. The wound he had got when he found the man. It had been a dark night. Jameson knew him. He left him, bleeding to death, slowly and painfully, stabbed just like he had stabbed his Elise. But Jameson had got a wound himself, and he had had to do a rough stitch himself, he couldn’t go to a doctor.
Every now and then the stitch would hurt. But Jameson didn’t want to get better. He would willingly embrace death. None in the town knew about this secret Jameson, this paining Jameson. No one knew about his love. And they wanted him to get a wife.
They didn’t know he already had one. Just the one.
“Sir-” Jameson tried through gasps of breath. “Sir, would you forgive me? Could you, ever?”
Mr. Summerhouse moved briskly to his side, and looked him in the eye.
“Son, you’re the only family I have now. For Elise, yes, I can forgive you, I did long ago. But for Elise, you will have to live James. You’ll have to stay strong.”
“How do you know sir? How do you know she doesn’t want me to die and be with her… why would she want me to live…”
“She comes to you every time you’re about to die. She tells you to live doesn’t she? Last year, when you got that wound, she was there all the time, wasn’t she? And now…”
Jameson cried shamelessly.
“I love her Sir. I do.”
“We both did.”
And the days rolled on. And the days just rolled on.
“The Tower cut a deal with that man at last. And he didn’t realise it then how much power he held in his mere existence, he was too dazed himself. The Tower couldn’t let the people see a man from the past. Everything that he knew, from the 21st century, was too dangerous. He knew how the people had led to the formation of the Tower itself. More than anything, he knew about God, and about religion. The Tower couldn’t risk the people believing in those things again. All control would be lost. Ironically, the reigning Head Lord even quoted a very Godly phrase in context to the matter- ‘All Hell would break loose.’ ”
Auxi stared at Vizas, as he held her hands and tried to explain.
“So the Tower cut him a deal, on which grounds he was to disappear in an excavation assignment. In fact, there was nothing we were actually trying to uncover, the Tower most certainly didn’t want any huge discoveries, and we just went round the world to Nepal to bury the man’s memory. He was actually, pulled into an underground settlement, along with some other top secret officers and projects. The man lived there for some while before he realised he was actually being killed, slowly, with every meal he took.”
“I don’t understand… why would he cause this winter… and why- why would he kill Bei?”
“That’s where we went wrong, Auxi. He had nothing to do with Bei. Or this winter. It has nothing to do with anyone actually. No Tower conspiracy, nothing. It’s just plain history, repeating itself. The world is constantly being born and living and dying. He knows tales himself, of how his generation came from an Ice Age. This is our Ice Age. This is our Judgement Day, our Apocalypse. It’s a circle, and these things keep happening.”
“But the Tower only momentarily lost control. They explained that the heat controls had collapsed. It all came to control after the S-Crisis.”
“The Tower didn’t know what had happened. They believed it was an internal failure. We are so advanced, we think we can manage anything. Actually, it was the first Ice Blast. The Tower only understood one thing. That the people who were on that excavation trip in Nepal would remember the snow that had permanently covered those mountains. They called in that team, remember?”
“Yeah- but what did they do?”
“The team, incidentally, comprised six of the remaining excavation base members. Some commoners were red-herrings…”
“But we selected that team. How could the Tower ensure they came?”
“The Tower was relying on our trust on those people. They were known for that excavation. That landslide, the pictures… the people were our heroes… and if those people weren’t chosen, the Tower was ready for a long drawn-out program to call in the people somehow or the other.”
“But what did they want with them?”
“Just assurance. When the team thought they were touring through the Tower controls, inspecting… they were actually going through interrogation. Lord Janei, by the way, was one of the people on the team. He knew everything, I think. And anyone you should signs of rebellion was immediately pulled out-”
“Killed?!” gasped Auxi.
“No Auxi. Just pulled out. They were put on the Tower as officer, often within the same control centre- thermal. That ensured confidentiality, as per Tower regulations. And the people could also help control the thermal crisis coming.”
Auxi’s eyes widened. “Befriend the enemy.”
“Something like that.”
“But they killed Bei!” cried an outrage Auxi. Nothing was wrong? Then why did Bei die?! She was tortured, if nothing else!
“Bei- it’s tough Auxi.” He gathered her close. “Bei thought he was onto a conspiracy. He thought there was something the Tower was hiding. He was right. That man from the past, the coming of the Ice Age… and when he started poking, they tried to kick him out. He wouldn’t stop. So the Tower cut the 21st century man a new deal. He was threatening their control now, since he knew he was being poisoned. The Tower had no choice but let him inside the control rooms. He did what he pleased. And soon he heard that Bei was poking around.”
“So he did kill him?!”
“Auxi, this man, was the exact image of Bei’s great-great-grandfather. And you know how Bei was always boasting of his noble bloodline. Bei saw his own an-descent, talked to him, and before he died, Bei knew everything. But what Bei did not know was that he had caused his own death by meeting the man.”
“Bei could not believe what he had seen. He started acting weird. The Tower was already troubled. If the man didn’t tell everyone, Bei could. But before they could do anything, Bei died of a nervous fit. Not heart attack. Nervous fit. Which is completely possible in his circumstances.”
“I don’t believe that.” Auxi grunted.
“I knew you won’t. But that’s where I will leave-”
“And me? Why did that man come after me?!”
“He realised that his own power stayed as long as he was the only, exclusive threat. Otherwise, the Tower would wipe out the entire problem without thought. He needed us to shut up, and the people must not know.”
“So he would have killed us!”
“No. He would only scare us to silence. He didn’t know himself how far he was willing to go, but not murder.”
“And he told you all this readily? Wow! Man suddenly has a conscience!”
“It came at a price…”
“I don’t believe it, I just don’t. The Tower wouldn’t waste so much time on a threat. This winter is totally under our control, and I intend to make that five moon donation for the heat machine. This man is a killer, Vizas, I’m telling you. He killed Bei.”
“I knew you would want to know on your own. So I’m leaving you this-”
“Leaving you?! Where are YOU going?”
“This information came at a price, Auxi.” Vizas smiled suddenly. But his eyes were sad.
“What price? Vizas? What’s going on?”
“I love you Auxi. I told you I would be saying that to you once I got out of Waratia. Here we are Auxi. I’m just one year and fifty-eight days early.”
“Vizas! Where are you going?!”
“He’s taking me with him. I don’t know where. But that’s how this will end. He is leaving the Tower to explain for themselves. The winter won’t get better Auxi, so get underground. Start building. I’ll come for you as soon as I can.”
“Vizas, you can’t go! How can you- Where-”
“Auxi, I want you to know I love you. And I always will.”
But Vizas pushed her away and walked to the door of her house. He opened it, gave her one last look and then vanished, forever.
In that last look Auxi saw that he was destroyed. Everything was over. Nothing meant anything anymore. And the winter had already thawed… because what was cold, heat, pain, or love, without anyone to share it with?
Ice Age may come next minute, and Auxi couldn’t care less. Because Auxi had already died.