THE PRISON HOUSE






I have a fascination for extremely short stories, for stories arranged in strange patterns, and for stories told through an unconventional medium. I have tried writing in some of these ways. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but it always feels satisfying. 
The story below is one such experiment. I narrated it on my Instagram for thirty days of November, each day a piece posted in the square space that Instagram allows. 
have compiled the story below for one shot reading. I would really love to hear your comments on how/whether you liked it!







If on this day, this year, the river had not flooded, the boy couldn't have escaped the house.

Every single room in the house had been empty. The boy had checked again and again. It had many windows like eyes staring out, and a lone door which had shut the moment he had stepped in, as if swallowing him whole. He could have looked out at the village from the windows, but he was afraid to do it. He didn't want anyone to see him. It would have been dangerous, after what he had done.

One the first day he heard people banging on the door and peeping in from the windows, calling out his name. He held his breath and cowered behind the door. That day he had felt relieved that the door would not open. It was later that he had started feeling scared. As each night fell, he felt something bad was rising up from the floor of the house, like a bad odour. He started locking himself up in the front room at night. And yet he was unable to sleep.

That afternoon, he heard a movement in the innermost room. Like water dripping on soft mud, or like feet moving on burnt grass. He ran to the room but couldn't bring himself to look in. The sounds were real. Somebody was walking inside. But the walking was like no earthly thing.
He bolted the door to that room. Maybe the sound was like crushed burnt grass. He thought of fields of wheat burning in a hungry fire. He had lit that fire. He had known it would burn everyone sleeping in the fields.

Outside, the sound of the gurgling river kept his thoughts company. Water to his fire.

He had wanted to burn the crops, if there had been people inside, it was just their bad luck. No, it was not his fault. Those people had humiliated him, cheated him of his wages. It was not his fault.
But what was that thing locked in the inner room? How had it gotten inside this doorless house. If it had gotten in, was there a way for him to get out?
It started raining that night. The drip drip drip of the rain drummed an urgent beat in his heart. He needed to get out of the house before it was too late. But late for what?

He decided to go to the innermost room, face the thing that waited in there, and escape this horrible prison. He gathered his belongings. His hands shook as he pushed a tin plate, a tattered ten rupee note, and a handful of wheat grain inside his small bag of clothes. The noise coming from the room had grown guttural, repeating, overlapping as if it arose from the throat of a beast with thousand heads. He took hesitant steps, pushing one foot in front of another, and stood in front of the door to the room. The sounds stopped all of a sudden, as if waiting for his next move.

The rain was pounding now, the river was no longer a stream, it was a force. He barely heard the rain or the river, his ears thudded with rushing blood. He clutched the handle to open the door.

The room was not a room at all, it was a furnace. Flames of yellow and red light lapped from wall to wall, like an amorphous beast. The heat could have melted down the walls, but strangely, it hadn't. The room was not a room at all, it was a hellhole.

In the middle of this mayhem was something black, something dark, blowing like a mad tree in a storm. It suddenly broke open into a thousand fingers and slushed towards him, aiming for the black of his eyes. He backed a step, and stumbled, eyes locked into the black fingers. He understood that his worst fate was not the fire, or the prison house, but it was this, the black thing. It had been waiting for him. He recognised it.

It was the soul of the lives he had ended. It was the soul of the birds, the insects, the people, the snakes, the plants, all of it boiling into this angry black mass. No! He yelled, frantic with fear. He couldn't let it devour him. He looked back, the house had morphed into the furnace. Up where the ceiling should have been was a hole, open to the wet sky. It was his only chance.

He jumped up and landed back on the scalding floor. He jumped again, barely missing the black whips of the hungry thing in the centre, and crashed on his back. His clothes caught fire. Maybe this was it, the end. As the flames scorched his skin, a wild thought struck him. What if he could strike a bargain? Give back what was not his, what he should never have taken?

The rain outside bellowed as if the sky had split. He walked towards the inviting blackness and stared into its thousand eyes. He saw his soul reflected back. He sprinkled the handful of wheat he had been carrying into the black bonfire, returning ash to ash. A loud thunder broke out. The river spilled out of its banks and went rushing in all directions. A flood of water entered the house and kept coming in endless giant waves.

He woke up coughing. He was out in the forest. The house was standing at a distance, unharmed by fire or water. The river gurgled peacefully nearby. The only thing affected by the storm was him. If the river had not flooded, on this day, this moment, he couldn't have escaped the house.

He looked at the house. Something had been lost, left behind. All his belongings were unscathed. There were no blisters on his feet and his clothes were intact. Only the wheat grains were gone, and with it had gone the remorse for his act. He had left his conscience trapped in the house.

He touched his heart, but found nothing there. It was hollow, empty, black. He had escaped nothing. The darkness was in him.
He was the black.


Nivedita Barve
30 November 2016

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