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By Anjali Nair

Jack sprints down St. Peters road, side-stepping laser beams, burning craters in to the road and jumping over trees, knocked down by the flying metal discs. His dull neighbourhood now resembled a scene from Star Wars! Or so he assumed. He had managed to reach his final year of High School without ever watching one of those movies - a secret he’d take to his grave! A grave that seemed fast approaching, he feared, as he ducked to escape another disc.

So far, this trip to the grocery store had been far from regular. This was a distressing, code Red, ‘End is nigh’ level of not-regular. He shuddered to think how it was all because of him.

20 minutes ago, way, way before the skies decided to unleash death rays and giant fatal Frisbees, Jack was aimlessly walking through aisle 6, in his local mart. His older, over-achiever brother, Ryan needed more college supplies and Jack was told to accompany his brother and imbibe some of his brilliance while he was home from college. Jack put the imbibing on hold as he ambled to the counter to pick up a lollypop. That’s when he laid his eyes on it – a shiny box of Marlboro Lights. It’s exactly what Vidya in school was smoking. Vidya was the tallest and smartest girl in Jack’s class. Her distinct gravelly voice made up his dreams and her infectious laugh made his days. He would stare at her for hours on end, just to catch a glimpse of that laugh – it was the cure to everything! Jack was conviced she was made of angel dust.

Vidya was the most beautiful girl Jack had ever seen; which made this the most beautiful packet of cigarettes to ever exist. And that would make theirs the most beautiful (albeit smoky) relationship that ever could be!!

Convinced that this cigarette would mark the beginning of a beautiful romance, Jack nervously approaches the cashier and buys it. He zips the cigs and a lighter into his pocket when Ryan’s monotone startles him.

‘Don’t do it. You’ll ruin everything! Trust me’

Jack holds his ground. He had to, for Vidya. ‘Oooooh. Aren’t you being a bit dramatic?’ Jack retorts.

‘Smoking kills, Jack. Smoking kills’

Ryan shakes his zombie head, his disapproval boring into Jack’s skull. Spooked, Jack stumbles out of the store and into the parking lot.

He had only taken a single drag of the cigarette. One single drag, when it began. Inches away from him, landed the first flaming disc. Hoards of panicked people emerge from nowhere, running for their lives. One woman shrieks, ‘It’s happening again!’ Jack watches Ryan’s disapproving eyes as he disappears into the crowd.

Back to St. Peters road...

Jack’s stamina wears thin now. He hears a soft voice call out his name. Standing before him, amidst broken roads and burning houses, was the spectacular beauty, Vidya. She made even ash and grime look divine! He could already picture their post- apocalyptic, happily ever after. Jack takes one step forward, ready to be her knight in greasy denim armour. All his dreams were about to come true, when a red laser beam hovers over her head and ZAP! Vidya turns into a pile of ash.

Jack shrieks, dropping to the floor. What was happening! Ryan’s dreaded words ring in ear, ‘You’ll ruin everything’.

‘HOW CAN MY CIGS BE CAUSING THIS BIZARRE INTERGALATIC WARFARE?! IT MAKES NO SENSE!’ Jack yells into the universe for answers. A metal disc crashes into another tree, next to him, sending him off running again. He’d have to look for his answers on the go!

Finally, he spots his house in the distance. As he gets closer, he discovers to his horror, his entire house engulfed in smoke. He’s running so fast now, it feels like his feet will fall off any second. Jack’s mad dash is interrupted when he falls into a crater in his front yard. Tears are gushing down his cheeks now, as he takes out the packet of cigarettes from his pocket.

‘I HATE YOU! I REGRET EVER SMOKING. I WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN. EVER. YOU RUINED EVERYTHING!’ Jack sobs uncontrollably as he chucks the packet away.

Suddenly the skies clear, free from smoke and fire. The air smells cleaner, the trees are flourishing in place and his house is in pristine condition.

Too disoriented to react and also scared that another flying disc may be around the corner, Jack continues to stare at his surroundings. Was it all a dream?

The front door to his house opens and Ryan’s beaming face greets Jack. As annoying as he is, Jack was thrilled to see brother.

Jack runs into his brother’s arms.

‘Don’t worry, it’s over now’, Ryan comforts him.

‘So it wasn’t a dream! What the hell was that?’

‘It’s happened before. When I broke curfew to go to a club, when I broke Grandma’s urn and when even Dad decided to remarry’, Ryan tries to jog Jack’s memory. ‘You were probably too young to remember. But do you remember what Mom told us right before she passed?’

Confused, Jack mumbles, “She said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll always be there, looking down on you’”

Suddenly all the fire and heat Jack had just endured could not prevent the chill that ran down his spine.

‘What are you saying, Ryan?’ Jack panics.

‘You know Mom. She always did have a vile temper, didn’t she?!’ Ryan shrugs and walks away.

Strange was this feeling, Jack thought, of being scared to death and looked after, all at once.

So, Jack would live to see another day brightened by that Vidya’s beautiful, infectious laugh. The irony in that it also almost killed him today, was not lost on him.

By Anjali Nair

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