One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet
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A story by Sanjana Shankar, Age 12, Gear Innovative Intl. School, Bangalore.
You’ve heard of J², right??
Silly question, I know, given that he is probably the most famous, the most awesome and amazing fiction writer in the whole universe.
He re-defined the world of fiction, dancing from genre to genre like they were intertwined lanes leading to glory.
J² readers, quite automatically became J² fanatics and his books were bestsellers and most of them went on to become blockbuster movies.
J²’s stories of ghosts were not mere horror fiction. Each ghost had a story, each story held enough emotion and appeal to capture the reader’s attention and never let go.
In spite of being “ghost stories” the fiction seemed so real, that many swore that J² was some kind of a psychic who could see the world of ghosts and was mystically in touch with each of them to know their story so well.
Words would dance off the pages of J²’s books, prose mingling with poetry that left behind an unforgettable mark in the heart of the reader, leaving them yearning for more.
A part of J²’s appeal is his elusiveness. Not even his editor has met him in person or spoken to him, receiving transcripts by e-mail and taking suggestions only via e-mail. So many have tried and failed to find out who the real J² is. A few who tried to assume J²’s identity were quickly denounced as “frauds” and with each debunking J²’s popularity just soared.
Now, let me let you in on a secret. To start with J² isn’t a ‘he’. Well, J² isn’t a ‘she’ either.
And most definitely not a ghost (which you may well have surmised by now).
How do I know this, you ask? Well, do you remember J²’s bestseller from a lifetime ago called “The Curious Case Of The Road to Robbie”?? I’m sure you do, everyone read it!
The tragic yet heart-warming tale of brave little 12 year old Robbie who was mercilessly killed during a home invasion, but went on to assume the role of a guardian of lost children after avenging her demise.
She finally found her peace in the solace she could offer the lost souls she encountered in this world and others. I would know. I’m Robbie.
Well J² are siblings, Jay and Jia, two beautiful (mortal) souls who have spent most of their adult life writing my stories and stories of so many like me. How do I know them? We’ll just have to rewind by a few years if you want to get that story.
20 years ago..
Jay frowned at the pavement as the car backed away. Their old home looked so…alien, so foreign now that they had painstakingly removed the crayon marks on the door that Jia had scrawled when she learned to write her first word, the chalk drawings that took Jay a month to make in summer, the perpetual muddy stains that Alfie made while jumping from the lawn to the pavement and back, and the large red stain on the driveway where Mom had dropped a large can of Gram’s Jams. All of these were gone, leaving nothing but a plain, normal, ordinary home.
Jia grumbled. ‘Dad, are we there yet?’ she asked impatiently. She tapped her foot to the ground of the car and looked at Jay, who was staring out of the window with tears in his eyes. She pretended to not to notice them. Despite being only two years older, Jia looked up to him in the way that one looked up to their idol. Of course, the fact that he was annoyingly understanding didn’t help. Jia chewed her strawberry flavoured gum furiously. Why did they have to move? Wasn’t their old house good enough? What did it matter that Dad lost his job and Mom wasn’t getting a raise? What did it matter that the family couldn’t pay their own bills for a month and almost got handed an eviction notice?
Just because this house was dirt cheap and impressively big, didn’t mean they had to move immediately!
Mom was fast asleep, a sort of half frown on her face as she snored. She had definitely over-exerted herself today. She was up at 3 AM because she couldn’t sleep. She never liked change, be it as small as a forgotten task to the shift of a house. Nonetheless, she knew she had to do this. For James, Jay and Jia. For their family.
Dad was relieved. It had been a long time since things had gone well for him, and he almost couldn’t believe his ears when he heard about the sale of the house off Rainfel, even more so when he heard the price. He knew what he had to do then and there. Leaving the house to him was bittersweet. He didn’t want to upset Jo, but he was happier about the move than he let on. James had high expectations.
When they finally reached the house, it was far past dusk. The moon hung limply in the sky, looking like a tired marionette. Alfie whimpered as Jia leashed him. ‘I know boy, me too’ Jay echoed, shivering.
It could have been the pain of the move, or maybe just plain and simple melancholy that brought back a shard of a memory to Jia. She had dropped something in the dark while they were packing.
A photo frame of their family vacationing in Madrid, when Jay’s dark eyes still glittered mischievously and the only expression on Dad’s face wasn’t tired. That photo frame, though, had been on her bedside for years, and now it would be somewhere in a sewer, never to be found again.
Tears filled Jia’s eyes but she blinked them away. Ever since their life had been up turned by lost jobs and things Jia couldn’t fathom, she had felt lost, feeling helpless to do anything while it looked like her family, and hence her life, was falling apart.
Her rock through all this was her brother, Jay. And these days he seemed as shaken as he was. “Lost”, a label she never thought would apply to her, but was hauntingly all she felt these days.
Mom gulped, and Dad plastered a smile on his face. ‘All right, kiddos, take at least three bags each.’ Mom ordered. The manor looked eerie in the moonlight, even Dad had to admit.
The first night went surprisingly well, not counting the fact that they found a maggot infestation under Jia’s bed that made her want to shift to the guest room, Alfie howled incessantly, and there were random drafts of cold air even though Mom swore she closed the windows.
The alarm clock beeped monotonously. Jia got up with a jerk, turning to her alarm clock shakily. The alarm clock, in all of its bright pink glory, read the numbers 1:01 AM. She sighed in relief. Jia was just falling back asleep in the comfort of her warm covers when she heard tapering footsteps from upstairs. What in the world? Jia thought quietly. The fact that she was the inquisitive sort, found herself standing on her bed and pressing her head to the wall, listening for any more sounds.
For a few moments, silence.
But almost instantly after that, Jia could swear she heard footsteps receding- as if whatever was upstairs, on top of her was running away. She dropped back into bed abruptly. Her instincts told her that she should let it go.
The next morning, sun shone almost directly in Jay’s eyes, making him groan. He hadn’t slept all night, not after what he saw.
It was approximately 1 AM, that much he could discern. He heard a bang from the guest room, so he got up to check on Jia. She didn’t show it, but he could see how shaken up she was about the move. He couldn’t the erase the sight of her usually bright aquamarine eyes filled with tears.
While he cleared his mind of unwelcome thoughts, he saw a blur in the end of the corridor.’Jia?’ He called expectantly.
Jia had the often, annoying habit of investigating even the smallest disturbances. He entered the corridor, groping for a light switch. Jay gave up, entering the corridor (which seemed to go on forever) and tried to reach for Jia.
‘Ji, this really isn’t funny, okay?’ Jay grumbled. His struggling arms finally found a hand, although it was unnaturally cold, and… dusty?
Was it a hand in the first place?
Suddenly unsure, Jay took two steps back and felt a hard wall against his back. Wait. What? A. . wall? This definitely hadn’t been here before. Before he could react further, a ray of sunlight filtered through a window he didn’t even know existed, revealing a girl with shabby hair hung around her shoulders, and glasses.
She had eyes like saucers that seemed even more disconcerting when she widened her eyes in surprise on seeing Jay. Her pale skin almost looked grey and all Jay could think of were all the scary women that featured in almost all the horror movies he’d peeked at, when his parents thought he was asleep.
There were figures behind her wisp like form. Jay wanted so badly to run away, but his legs rooted him firmly back into the ground. The girl didn’t seem to notice his extremely obvious fear. ‘I’m Robbie, but you can call me Rob.’ She said, with what Jay could only call a smile for want of a better word. ‘Do you want some ca-‘ but she was cut off.
Jay ran back to his room as fast as his legs would take him. When he finally collapsed into bed, he was shivering in fright. What in the world did he find?
Who was she? Who were they?
Jia’ seemed to have materialised out of thin air. Her insistent voice pulled him out of his thoughts. ‘Jay, I need to show you something.’ She spoke quietly.
At first, Jay thought it was a joke but then he noticed the bags under Jia’s eyes, hanging limply. ‘Follow me.’ She beckoned tiredly. She led him to the staircase, then took a turn at the 7th step.
She kicked the wall.
Inside it was a door, and beyond it a corridor, like something you would see in the sewers.
Jay and Jia didn’t dare tell mom and dad. ‘Kids and their imagination’ they would sigh, and head on with their work.
Their parents had already dismissed Jia’s hypothesis that there was a boy who sneaked onto the terrace every night (she said his name was Charlie) and Jay’s claim of Robbie from the corridor / room (the path to which had mysteriously disappeared).
So, the next evening, when their parents were off to get some obscure property document they insisted they needed, Jay and Jia decided to open the door and see where it led. The door opened with a creak, making Jia shiver. They entered and Jay immediately hit his head on the ceiling. It was even lower than the ceiling of the treehouse they made last summer, so that was saying something. Jay kneeled as he moved, and Jia brushed the cobwebs out of their path. They entered a bigger room that was pitch dark, and the door swung closed behind them. Jia let out a small yelp before Jay held her mouth closed. ‘Shhh’ he whispered. ‘I hear something.’
He deftly took out a torchlight from his pocket and turned it on. It let out a small bright beam of light that lit up the room slightly. Jia sighed in relief. She sucked in a breath, pointing to a cabinet on their right. It was the only piece of furniture in the room other than the cobweb-filled, dusty armchair. And on top of it, was a gift box.
Jay was confused. ‘A gift box.’ He said, a questioning tone in his voice. Jia was less perturbed.
‘A gift box!’ She echoed, excited. ‘Excited’ – it was something neither of them had a felt in a while. As she went closer, Jay tried to hold her back. ‘Listen, Ji, that could be dangerous. We don’t know what’s in it.’ Jia scoffed. ‘Jay, listen to yourself. Besides, how bad could it be?’
Without waiting for anything, Jia opened the box. It was dusty and released a burst into the air. They coughed and fanned the air. Jay was almost afraid to look inside the box. What if it was something gruesome or horrible or dangerous or ……
Jia squealed with delight, something she very rarely did except in moments of true happiness. Jay whirled around, his expression incredulous. ‘What is it?’ He asked softly.
Jia’s voice was warm and sweet like pancakes with syrup.
‘Our photo frame. They gave it back.’
The present day…
We were, no, are the “they” that Jia referred to.
We are the lost lost souls of another world trying to help lost souls of this one.
Most children who found their way back to who they were with our help, went on to live their own lives. They went on to become the best versions of themselves that they knew how to be, but left us behind, a relic of a memory in their past that helped them through a difficult time. An imaginary friend, if you must.
But not Jay and Jia.
Jia in all her inquisitiveness, found out about each one of us in what had been wrongly labelled “that haunted house”.
Jay, the big-hearted boy that he was, decided the world had to know our stories, our sweet triumphs, our bitter defeats and most of all, our life’s (or after life’s) purpose.
Are ghosts real? I’ll let you decide that.
But words that dance in front of your eyes, words that make you sing, and laugh and cry, words that make you dream and words that make you scream.
And words that create worlds woven with their magic.
What can be more real than these words?