Chapter 15

 (Book 2: Hello, Can You Fear Me?)


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It wasn’t until the curtains started to rise that Subro and Uncle Silver made their rushed entry. They appeared utterly comical as they tiptoed in, the painter with his ridiculous umbrella and the old man with his multi-utility walking stick.

Subro got down to business as soon as he reached the seats. He faced the stage, putting his hands up before his line of vision in a mock frame to check the angle. He shifted the seating of the group around to get the best view for himself, choosing a slightly angular view of the stage over one that was completely dead-centre.

Once that was taken care of, he immediately began to set the Captura up on its stand, rambling non-stop to Ravi about the new features that Uncle Silver had installed:

‘Oh it’s gonna be so easy to shoot with this portable InstaLight. Can you imagine having the older umbrella-thing here? Would have blocked everyone’s view! And the rotation of the plates is so much faster now. You know what that means, Ravi? It means more shots! Don’t even get me started on these new thinner plates. Also, the captured InstaCopies are going to pile up here, so you can instantly check the results! This is all so cool!’

‘Less talking, more doing!’ Ravi hissed at him. ‘You can explain later.’

‘Oh, yeah I can, but I thought the readers should know.’

‘Okay, it’s starting, shut up.’

The lights in the seating area gradually dimmed out, and the lights for the stage lit up correspondingly.

A group of musicians were revealed against the rear wall of the platform. There was a man with tabla drums, a woman with a sitar, a second woman with a harmonium and a little boy with a flute. A group of young girls were also huddled together to form a small choir.

The show began as the young boy started playing a piece on his flute. It was a melodious intro that was soon joined in by the sitar, then the tabla and then the harmonium. Once the choir of girls also pitched in a vocal melody, the dancers flowed onto the stage from the sides.

The dance was an epitome of coordination from before it truly started. The entrance of the performers itself was timed to perfection, the steps each dancer took to reach their spots screaming of precision. Madhu made her appearance too, taking her place at the helm of the entire group. The music slowed down for a bit as all the dancers got to their respective positions, and as soon as it picked up again, the performance began in earnest.

It was breathtakingly beautiful. Ravi hadn’t ever attended a dance show before, having always appreciated the written word over other forms of entertainment. Now, he was spellbound by the sheer talent in front of him.

The performers’ every move was in perfect sync with the others. The choreography involved striking such poses as Ravi hadn’t realised were humanly possible. The dancers often switched between delicate flowing motions and aggressive steps with the ease of someone opening and closing a tap. And it wasn’t just an affair of brilliantly coordinated movement either. Their expressions shone through at every moment, perfectly complementing the music as it flowed through different tones and moods.

Ravi found himself tapping his feet to the music. He even physically shuddered a couple of times during the fiercer moments of the performance. Suffice it to say, he was thoroughly engrossed and enjoying himself, feeling a sort of therapeutic happiness. The pressure of heading a company, the stress of strategising every day and the frustration of dealing with Subro were almost gone from his mind.

Almost.

Obviously, Subro refused to give him peace for too long. Although not ill-intended, the painter’s use of the Captura was a bit louder than Ravi would have liked. It interfered with the beautiful music. There were also the continuous flashes from the new portable InstaLight.

Nothing could be done about it, though, even with the glares that they were attracting from the others. They needed to capture InstaCopies today. Perhaps Uncle Silver could come up with a quieter solution for next time.

As his attention shifted to the Captura, Ravi noticed the faster speed at which the plates were rolling in the machine. He watched them being drawn in from one side of the Captura and deposited to the other. The mechanism reminded him of the magazines of a machine gun.

Subro was clicking through the shots so quickly, the first round of plates were used up within the quarter of an hour. The artist cursed at the disruption to his flow, then quickly loaded a fresh set, handing the old one to Ravi. In under a minute, he was back to doing his job.

Ravi switched on the backlight of his MorsePage, shining it on the plates on his lap to check the results. His eyes alternated between the performance actually playing out on the stage and the moments recorded in the InstaCopies.

The shots had come out really well, not disappointing his admiration of Subro’s skill with the device. As always, the level of realism in the images stunned him.

As for the ghosts, they seemed to be casually floating about, as blind to the performance as the humans were to them. Their colourful, translucent shapes subtly distorted whatever they flew in front of.

Ravi observed that due to the quick, successive shots, he could track the movement of the ghosts, much as he had planned to capture that of the performers’. Absently, he followed one of the wisps from plate to plate, watching it drift across the stage, expressionless, unmoving, apart from the displacement. The wisp halted at a point for three frames, then turned around and drifted back the way it had come. It halted again, mid-way, then turned its back to the frame and moved away from it. It kept going, until it had passed right through the rear wall of the stage, disappearing from view.

Ravi noticed that other ghosts were following the first. One by one, they were vacating the scene, disappearing through the solid rear wall as one might through an open doorway. There appeared to be an urgency in the collective act. The number of ghosts escaping through the far wall was growing with each plate.

Pretty soon, all of the ghosts in view had departed.

Ravi stared at the plate for a good while — the first InstaCopy he had ever seen without a ghost in it. What could have caused it?

The next couple of images were similarly devoid of wisps, until one of them contained something strange — like a ghost, but not quite. It was a thin translucent string of yellow light that had whipped in from behind the frame. In the next image, the string was taut, extending into the far wall through which the ghosts had made their exit. It was joined by other similar strings not long after.

Ravi was shuffling rapidly through the InstaCopies now. As the number of strings increased, the first one pulled out from the wall, bringing with it a ghost that it had tied itself around. The wisp appeared to be struggling.

A few more strings pulled out, bringing captives of their own. The wisps were being tugged back to somewhere behind the frame, somewhere behind the Captura’s field of view. Ravi’s curiosity was piqued, but the first batch of plates ended there.

He looked up, not concentrating on the actual performance any longer. Something was at work here, and he needed to know more.

He pulled at Subro’s arm. The painter responded with an irritated click of his tongue. On the second tug, though, the artist turned his complete attention to Ravi. He didn’t look annoyed any longer, almost as if he knew something was up, without context, like he so often did.

‘Subro, take a shot of the audience behind us,’ Ravi told him. ‘I need to see—’

Not even waiting for him to finish, the painter jumped up from his seat, following the instruction. Turning the device around, he quickly pressed its button multiple times. Ravi got up too. They were drawing further stares from the audience — what with the blinding flashes of light being directed at the people — but it didn’t matter. This could be important.

Ravi grabbed the shots recently ejected into the device’s “out” pile. He didn’t, however, get to have a good look at them.

As if in response to the flashes they were subjecting the people to, a huge burst of yellow light sparked from the midst of the audience and beamed down at them, striking the Captura.

No sooner was it hit than the device exploded.

The blast was violent. Ravi found himself lifted off his feet and thrust away. The force was so strong that he landed on the stairs to the stage, dazed and befuddled.

After what felt like an hour, he managed to force himself up to a kneeling position, attempting to look around. The explosion had pelted the performers against the rear wall. They too were trying to collect themselves. He saw Madhu nursing an injured shoulder.

Turning to face the audience, he gasped. Some of the seats had been bent away. Although none had been uprooted, the people in them looked just as shaken as the performers. Uncle Silver and Anurag were among them, recovering from the shock.

Some of the audience was beginning to run for the exits. A young voice somewhere screamed ‘Bomb!’ and it led to more people frantically repeating the word. People everywhere began to force themselves up, everyone wanting to be the first out of the place.

The guards positioned at the exits were springing into action. They tried to bring the chaos under control, but there were far too few of them to make much difference.

Between the seating and the stage, Ravi saw the Captura’s parts lying broken and scattered all over. Amidst the ruins, Subro’s body lay in an awkward position, unmoving. His clothes were singed in places and a gash ran diagonally across his face.

Ravi didn’t know how to respond. He tried to right himself, but his head began to swim and he felt nausea set in. He crawled on all fours instead, down the stairs, towards the painter, avoiding the broken parts of the Captura strewn everywhere.

He whimpered as he made his way. ‘This… This can’t be happening. Subro!! It was a joke… I didn’t… mean for this to happen! Why does it have to be like this…?’

There was no funny comeback from Subro as he lay there, absolutely still.


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