ROPE ROUND THE NECKMy gorgeous mother - Sara; my physically fit daddy - Alex; my nerdy bro - Daniel and the all-rounder (that's me, of course), completed the Parker family.
I loved my family tremendously.
Daniel was, well, ugh; a straight-A student - a total geek. He was my mamma's boy, therefore; while I was my daddy's boy for being brilliant at sports.
"JAMES!" barked my mum. I braced myself for a deadly explosion. "James? What are you doing, lying on my bed? And oh, my gosh! Reading a goddamn storybook even after the knowledge that we're off to Spain tomorrow early morning!" she added on blasting into my room.
"Sara, oh, Sara! Don't make packing a fuss now. I'm sure James is done with his packing, ain't I right, m'boy?" my father said, stepping in. I nodded in a Daniel-ish sort of manner. Dad's lips curled into a victorious sneer.
My mum glared at me menacingly for a moment, and then burst out of the room at top speed. As she went, I was sure I had heard her cursing under her breath, but fearing more wrath, I kept my quiet.
My brother and me are both 13-year olds, although "technically", he's seven months elder to me. Anyways, I've just turned 13, and it's great to be a TEENAGER!
The next morning at half past six, we, the Parkers - robust as ever - set out for an eleven-day trip. I was indeed glad to know that mom had put behind her yesterday's embarrassment. After a minor delay in the arrival of our flight from San Francisco, we were finally seated in the flight with our earphones plugged in - all ready to depart to Madrid.
I was, but of course, listening to my favourite rock band, which is Never Say Die.
All of a sudden - "Bless my soul! Dan, tell me you haven't forgotten to bring that lasso-kinda rope from the garage!" exclaimed my mom hysterically, so loud that our co-passengers turned a complete angle to stare disapprovingly at her, due to which - along with her - we, too had to undergo a flush of embarrassment in which, I'm sure, we would've been blushing a deep, crimson red.
Daniel replied in a dignified voice, "Yes, momma. It's in the Garfield bag, remember?"
"Thank goodness for that!" mom said in careful whisper, having learnt a lesson from her last flurry of shame, perhaps.
She smiled serenely.
"Well, to be frank with you guys, even a person suffering from memory loss would not forget to carry the lasso with his mum repeating the instruction twice every hour!" I joined in, snorting. Daniel and mom both rolled their eyes in a terrific synchronisation. I as bedazzled by this!
Then, mom continued in a matter-of-factly voice, as if there had been no interruption at all, "My friend, Grace, you know, told me they teach the tourists how to catch a running bull by the neck using a lasso in Spain."
Then, she gazed at Daniel, and my brother, realising that she was expecting a response said in a voice full of forced awe, "Oh! How fabulous!"
With that, mom beamed and soon set off to a really sound sleep.
After what must've been about three quarters of an hour, the aircraft swooped down steeply.
My neck throbbed, I felt numb all over. I was losing control over my senses. I glanced over to the rest of my family : mum was awake at long last. She must've had a nightmare for her eyes were swollen. Daniel was entirely shaken, he was pale. Dad, who was also listening to music, too seemed to have paper-white skin. He looked as though he just had an encounter with a devil.
The air was full of wails, shrieks, cries, sobs, shouts, warnings, panic-stricken yells, screams - all in all, it was hysterical.
An air hostess who was passing fell down and laid there, unable to get up again due to the horrible and unrelenting pressure.
BOOM! - there was an incredible blast. The cries of the people at this were followed by- BOOM - an equally deadly blast.
I'm gonna die young - that's all I thought before I was falling down I to an endless vacuum, ass though rubber tubes were sucking me into them. There was darkness ll around. I felt breathless. I gasped for breath, but in vain. I felt numb and cold. I piched myself in the hope that it was all a deathly nightmare - but alas - no, it was real - it was happening........
I could feel myself slipping away, my feet left the ground. Gradually, it all went black and I could recollect no more.
After a century of millenniums, or so I thought, my eyelids flickered.
"Oh James! Thank God! You're alive! Oh, my goodness; oh, my goodness!" exclaimed Daniel gleefully. I felt a sudden rush of affection for him.
"Hey, Dan! Glad you're okay, too! What on EARTH was that!" I could see he was pretty badly bruised. I could also spot burns on his wrist and neck.
"I swear, the sudden dip in the altitude just freaked out!!" he replied back.
"Ha! Anyway, I can't find momma and daddy, where're they, Dan?" His face contorted into a grimace.
"Oh, James . . . . . I'm so sorry, I couldn't . . . . . I couldn't s-s-sa --------" and he broke off, bursting into sobs. He wailed unconsolably, he did not look in a mood to stop.
But for me that was enough of a hint. I had my eyes fixed on the ground, remembering all the sweet little memories we'd shared together as a happy family, one that would never unite once more. The thought brought a sorrowful lump into my throat. I remembered the panic-stricken faces of mom and daddy before the blast. The anxiety and shock on their lined faces couldn't leave my grievous thoughts.
I remembered how rudely I'd spoken to my mom and daddy when they had refused to buy me a phone, citing the reason that it might commence my academic downfall. If only I could correct those moments into more happier ones . . . . .
If only I could have one final day with all the family reunited . . . . .
If only I could bid one final goodbye to the two of them . . . . .
The realisation of the fact that I would never see the happy faces of my parents was tough. My parents had always taught Daniel and me saying that "Boys don't cry" but today was different. Today, I was unable to hold back my tears, which were burning against my eyelids to come out. Finally, when I was unable to hold them back, I blinked to let out to colourless teardrops, which were at once soaked into the ground.
It was then that I noticed that there was no proper land in this strange place. I looked around, only to find a signboard which marked "Welcome to Hell". My eyes rolled lower on the signboard to find in bold and capital letters the words - "NO ESCAPE"
But at this moment of sorrowful silence, I didn't find it significant at all. I felt the lump in my throat becoming larger every passing second. My throat was watery. I wanted to scream aloud, but couldn't bring myself to it.
Then with a wonderful thought, I tried to collect myself together - "S'alright, James. You can't do anything to revert back this tragedy. But, you know what, James? Your parents would be proud if you go and live on despite this tragedy, rather than giving up on life. It's important for you to know that your parents have not died, it's just that they have ceased to live on earth. In fact, their in a far better place now. You parents would always remain, James - if not physically present, they would always be there for you as guardian angels, smiling down at you."
I felt considerably encouraged at this thought and shared it with Daniel, who merely puffed his nose and displayed a weak smile.
"C'mon then, Dan! Bring some wood! Let's light a fire - that'll help us" I called out courageously, trying to set an example.
"There's no wood, as you should have seen by now." mumbled back my brother.
"Well, this sucks. Anyway, for now let's wander round here - we might find an oasis, you know . . . . . " I suggested, following which he nodded approvingly and we set off.
After reaching a particular point, the landscape changed all of a sudden, without warning.
"Aaaaahhhh! Save meee!" Hurry, Dan!" I cried. Daniel looked round until his eyes were eventually set on me. His eyes steadily started to bulge. By the time, he decided that it was finally time to act, it was too late - he, too, was now drowning into the marshy swamp.
Oh gosh! Why couldn't he have popped his eyes out of his sockets some time late? Why now? Why is he so useless?
"Ugh . . . . . ne'er mind, bloke . . . . . " I tried to control my flaring temper, although it proved harder than I'd anticipated. "Let's use our swimming skills, although it'll be tough in this sticky mangrove."
After a fierce encounter with the dense, muddy and sticky waters, Daniel and me were up victorious with just a few minor injuries.
"I'm so sorry James ----- " Daniel started to apologise once we were out.
"S'alright, man," I cut him short "But, boy . . . . . that was indeed close!" I rejoiced.
"Come, let's return home," said Daniel.
"Home? Ha! We're homeless! We're orphans!" I blurted out.
Oh man . . . . . why on the ruddy hell did I have to be so dumb! I glanced at Daniel, who gazed back, entirely hurt. Ugh, how could I possibly be so insensitive!
I tried to changed the subject, "Oh, there'll be a house for us . . . . . no worries."
"No, you're right, James. We're orphans forever, we're homeless forever, we're moneyless forever . . . . . " he muttered, gazing down at the ground, These words pierced through me like a dagger. "Come, let's find shelter." said I.
While walking back, Daniel was constantly mumbling and muttering, and although I couldn't hear everything, I could make out odd words like "all my fault", " no parents", "wanna cry", "useless", "wanna die" . . . . . I felt deeply guilty. If only I could use a time-turner or something and say something more comforting, instead . . . . .
"Here! We've found a house! Whoa, it's with cemented walls and all! Purr-fect!" I exclaimed, trying to sound jubilant on finding the house, but in vain as Daniel seemed to have lost his voice.
We were on the pathway to the door of the house when -
A dagger came swishing from the front out of nowhere. It was gonna pierce through me squarely in the chest, that was beyond doubt.
But then, something I least expected happened. Daniel, despite my harsh words in the recent past, leapt in front of me to save me. There was a terrific yelp, which was equivalent to a dagger slitting my throat. I closed my eyes. When I opened them, Daniel laid there. Right before my eyes. There it was. My brother's body. It was writhing in pain.
"Nooooooo!!" I screamed. "No! No, no, no, no, NO!" I began to cry. "No, Dan, please, no! Talk to me! Not you, now . . . . . please, Dan, talk to me! You can't leave me alone . . . . . no you can't . . . . . I won't let you . . . . . "
"I love you, James, I really do . . . . . don't le------" my heart leapt with joy as my brother began to speak, although, deep inside I knew that there was no hope of his survival. Daniel's voice was breaking now, "Don't lemmy sacrifice go waste." I smiled tearfully at him. "Your good health, James." he added, raising an invisible goblet.
"Goodbye, Daniel." I bade him an unceremonious farewell.
I expected a goodbye back, but there he was - my lovely brother, Daniel Parker, moved no more. He writhed no more for he was in pain no more. And the last things I had said to my brother were so insensitive.
With tears streaming down my cheeks, I entered my new house.
After a really uncomfortable sleep - which included a deathly nightmare in which the emotional faces of my mum, daddy and Daniel flashed before me - I woke up early in the morning.
It seemed unbelievable that all this happened within a day. There was nobody to greet a good morning to. It was hard, hard indeed.
I looked around. I was seeing my new house for the very first time. There, on the wall right beside my bed were the words written in bold and upper case, using blood as ink -
LORD OF HELL
My face was glowering with rage. I knew deep inside that the blood which was used as ink was Daniel's.
I had a marker in Daniel's Garfield handbag, and without thinking twice, I had it out and started scribbling on the wall -
Come forward, you coward! And how dare you kill my brother! You know what? My brother was synonymous with courage - the symbol of sacrifice. Dare, then come forward, pose me a challenge - prove you superiority! But, sorry, cowards are wary of that . . . . . I forgot.
My chest was expanding rhythmically. I didn't even notice I was crying. I read what I'd just written on the wall. The message was directly from the heart. I wasn't fearing the Demon.
The next morning, as I woke up, I leapt out of the bed, expecting a response on the wall . . . . . and there it was -
REALLY FUNNY. MY DEAR NEXT VICTIM, DON'T TAKR THIS SUPERFICIAL COURAGE TO YOUR GRAVE, WHERE YOU WILL LAND PRETTY SOON AFTER FACING THE CHALLENGE TODAY EVENING. MEET YOUR DEATH IN THE CAVE, WHICH IS PRECISELY TWENTY-THREE FEET FROM YOUR DOOR, TOWARDS THE WEST.
LORD OF HELL
My expression was calm as I nodded to myself.
'For my late family, I will.' - this thought kept cropping into my mind, every now and then. Nevertheless, I didn't feel afraid of the daunting task which would soon lay before me in twisted paths, rather, I felt responsible for avenging the loss of my family. This thought gave me the courage to keep my head held high. It gave me strength as I latched the door and moved precisely twenty-three steps from the door of the house towards the West, at about half past five.
All of a sudden, like once before, the landscape changed from a pleasant surrounding into a huge, creepy cave.
Suddenly, a voice boomed. It was cold and hollow, yet, painful to the ears for it was so loud.
"Ah, so you've come! Didn't expect you to . . . . . but, ah, as I said, this is nothing but superficial courage." It was the Demon's voice.
"Now, that you've come, let's get somethings straight - you will not have your family back alive, even if you finish all the challenges successfully, which is least likely, of course. Now, one might say that why to risk your life to complete these tasks when you aren't getting back your dead ones?
"But, sorry to say, you can come here but cannot go back alive. That is, if you, try to run before the start of the challenges, be ready to have your throat slit. If you stumble on any of the challenges, as I expect you to, you won't be rescued, but will be left to die. If you finish the challenges, which's never gonna happen, you will be transferred back to your home, while I, the Lord of Hell or Demon, will go into an eternal sleep, marred by unpleasant dreams.
"But I find no reason to worry, while you should, just as any person before his death."
The Demon continued with a wicked grin, "So, here's the first challenge out of a total of four - you have to swim your way through a marshy swamp. You have to swim a long 60 metres. So . . . . . off you go!"
Oh, this is going to be easy - that was my first thought. The arena changed into a marshy swamp I had earlier also encountered, just that it was double the size. I removed my shirt and vest and dove into the water. And, ugh, it was damn muddy. Plus, it seemed that the evil Demon had put a zillion icebergs into the water, for it was freezing cold. The cold water was really dense and even the current was not in my favour. I was struggling. I knew it. I would drown any minute.
Then, like a ray of hope, the memory of my daddy teaching me how to swim flashed into my mind.
I felt energised at once, and then toasting an invisible goblet to my daddy, I swam against the adversities of my situation ? ?
I felt energised at once, and then toasting an invisible goblet to my daddy, I swam against the adversities of my situation. the finishing line seemed far away no more, and before I knew it, I had crossed it!
The cold voice of the Demon boomed, "Ah, my hearty congratulations to you. Congrats, congrats. Well, this was just the start of it. There's much more. Here's the second challenge - you have to pass through the desert. Simple, isn't it?" The hint of sarcasm in his voice was evident. I braced myself for the actual reality. The arena changed again.
Ow, it was hot! So hot! My feet felt tired without having done anything at all. I felt really hopeless. There was despair in the air. Guilty moments flashed back into my mind. The final moments of Daniel returned to my mind. The anxious faces of my parents along with the tense moments just after the second blast, returned. I'm gonna die right now. I won't be able to make it.
Then, I did what had worked out for me in the previous task - I again raised an invisible goblet, shouting aloud, "To mom!"
The same effect followed. The utter despair was replaced by heavenly peace and despair. The hotness in the air was replaced by a cool temperature. I felt I could live for another century. I remembered Gandhi's words - 'If you have the belief that you can do it, you shall acquire the capacity to do it, even if you may not have it at the beginning." These words gave me further strength. Soon enough, I had braved all the problems and was up triumphant after the second challenge.
"Um . . . . . off you go to the third challenge" the now-familiar voice boomed again. "Ha! You won't survive this one, boy! You have to escape from the boulders. Bad luck!" The arena changed for the third time. I was standing on wooden floor. In front of me, huge boulders hanging from the ceiling swung dangerously. On the wall was written - Get to the other side of the room, wholly unhurt.
I raised a toast to Daniel this time before I swayed, I ducked, I swirled, I ran, I tip-toed, I scrambled, I wriggled and performed many such manoeuvres as I successfully covered the long distance, wholly and completely unhurt. I was on cloud nine!
"Oh , my gosh! You might've become the lone survivor after finishing three tasks - for no one has ever completed more than two. But this one, the final one - you're definitely gonna lose. It is what you have always tried, but have always been pathetic - worse than the worst.
The arena changed again - for the last time.
ARCHERY! No! I'm so bad at it! The Demon was right! I'm worse than the worst!
There were just four targets in this board, numbered - '10', '20', '30' and the bullseye - '40'. But he board was considerably small, too. So, it was never gonna be an easy task for me. I think I'm gonna hit the wall, won't even touch the target board, I think.
Glancing at the wall, I discovered the horrifying words - Hit all the shots bullseyes, otherwise, shake hands with death. You have only three shots. These words sent shivers down my spine.
Then a fabulous idea struck me just as I was about to give up - I imagined the bullseye to be the Demon and the rest of the targets to be my mum, daddy and Daniel.
I held the bow in my hand and took aim.
Kill the Demon, kill the Demon, kill the Demon - the thought raced in my mind.
BULLSEYE! The first bullseye of my life.
While taking aim for my second shot, I thought - he's merely wounded now. Injure him further! Oh sure I will - I replied back to my mind. Kill the Demon, kill the Demon, kill the Demon.
And guess what? BULLSEYE! The Demon is injured! I rejoiced.
C'mon, James, he's limping now! Finish him off! Don't kill your loved ones by hitting somewhere else! Kill the Demon, kill the Demon, kill the Demon. For your dear ones! Kill their murderer! Avenge their death!
And there it was. I couldn't believe my eyes. The arrow had struck 40. BULLSEYE!! I exulted.
Then, the world was pink and yellow and was swirling from all dimensions.
I knew what that meant - I was being transferred back to earth.
And then I realised the greater result - I had defeated the Demon. I had KILLED the Lord of Hell, not just on the target board, but in reality as well.
I had avenged my family's loss. My parents would be proud me today.
I remembered the fond memories we had shared together as a happy family. However, I was no more tearful at these memories. Rather, I felt prouder. I felt stronger, stronger than ever, for now I was not remembering them as a family that would never be reunited again. Instead, I remembered them positively.
My family would always keep a watch over me from Heaven. They're my guardian angels who'd always help me through my thick and thin. They'll never let me down. They might not be physically present with me any more, but would always strengthen my soul.
I smiled, knowing that Daniel and my parents were smiling back. And before I knew it, I was beaming - my teeth gleaming!