Manish was terrible when he had nothing to do because no one could predict his actions. He was liable to do something totally crazy and sometimes far worse than that. Manish’s mother Rani was fed up of his idiosyncrasies while his father Raja completely ignored him. His thirty years were full of strange disappearances, sinister errands, futile essays and inert periods. In short, Manish was a nightmare to the society loving duty bound phlegmatic characters that seemed to abound on Sunet Street.
Today was one of those days. You could feel in the air for it was charged with tension. The wind was a little off key wheezing like a broken accordion. The sun stained the sky a dull yellow and for some strange reason stung like a nettle. The birds had fallen silent a long time ago ever since the morning dawned. A solitary cloud inhabited the skies drifting aimlessly along. A wise man would have locked himself up but Manish was not the smartest fellow around.
No eyebrows were raised when Manish wearing a new business suit started running out of the house. He carried his leather briefcase and a grey trilby cap wedged on to his hairy skull. No one glanced at him or bothered to remind of the incongruity of his attire. It was left to the residents of Sunet Street but they were old hands at this and refused to be drawn into whatever madness had descended on Manish. They just looked at him and then looked away muttering to themselves. No one had the courage or the gumption to stop Manish and remind him that today was a Sunday. It was equally true that no on Sunet Street had ever seen him wear a suit!
Manish’s leather covered feet thudded on the pavements building up a good pace as he ran on down the street onto the highway. The suit which was impressive in its own right, contrived to look like the modern day version of Nordic armor. If you replaced the briefcase in his hands with an axe and his trilby cap with a Viking helmet then you would have Manish FieryWarrior. Except that the Norsemen had disappeared a long time ago and truth be told they were from a different part of the planet altogether.
He ran on until the evening shine started appearing. When Manish was on this mood he never felt tired at all. He suddenly for no apparent reason exited the road at the corner of the seven trees and went due south. He soon encountered a gloomy forbidding copse of trees that no one went to anymore. It was rumored that the trees there were made of dried human flesh pasted onto saplings until they became bark. Logical minds dismissed that as utter nonsense. The irrational ones were another story altogether for they called it the Frightening Forest. Not the most original of names but pretty effective nonetheless.
If only the good people of Garibu city could have seen Manish now, they would have crossed themselves with all manner of incantations and godly paraphernalia. But it so happened, that he was not into religion and it was not even clear whether sanity had ever comported itself inside Manish’s head. He ran on like a locomotive that had jumped its tracks only to find itself on a gleaming steel surface that doubled its speed. He disappeared into the copse running as hard as he could until he could not see anything ahead of him. However that did not slow him down as he blundered from one collision to another pushing deeper into the morass of trees. Eventually he broke through into a small clearing at the center of which was a tomb stone.
He stopped at once his lungs heaving with the maniacal effort of running for more than fifty miles since the morning. Sweat dripped down his suit which was by now crumpled and torn in many places. The shoes were glossy no more coated with mud and scratched by myriads of sharp surfaces along the way. His hair had come loose covering his face like a limp plume from a Viking’s helmet. A long slim scratch on his cheek was just the star of the collection he had picked up when he stepped off the road.
His dilated eyes stared at the stone in weird exhilaration. One would wonder later on about what had brought Manish to this place. Was it an irresistible compulsion? Was it sixth sense that had led him to this sepulcher so deep inside the forest? The answer seemed moot for there was a premonition that something terribly important was going to occur.
Manish sank to his knees and keeled over resting his head on the stone. He remained still for such a long time that an ordinary passerby would have concluded that he was asleep or perhaps even dead! Finally a man or shall we merely say apparition appeared in front of the stone. It looked at the supine Manish and asked in a harsh guttural twang, “Are you a follower?”
Manish sprang up shock but his head of its own accord was nodding in affirmation. “Very well, I see that you are already spoken for! Take off those clothes, you don’t need them anymore”, said the man. Manish trembled but his fingers went to the buttons of his clothes and twisted them off divesting himself of his suit. He stood stark naked quivering with an unnatural foreboding of what was to come.
Several other apparitions materialized out the darkness floating in the air around the stone. One of them reached out and touched Manish on the forehead. It felt very cold as he stood there and for some time nothing happened. Just when he was beginning to think it was over, he felt something wet flowing down his stomach. He was shocked to see that his skin was peeling away from his chest and the slough was trickling down. His chest muscle was visible in lateral striations radiating from his sternum. Very soon the skin from all over his body came off in strips cascading down until his entire body was uncovered. They gathered around him and scooped up the slough into a translucent oval vessel and set it aside.
Then the pain started from the tips of his toes all the way up to his head. He felt like one of those unfortunate carrots peeled by his mother. Burning sensations flitted across his extremities until his entire body was bathed in a pain so intense that it made him cry for mercy. While he was still swimming in the ocean of pain, they touched him again. By now Manish knew what was coming as the muscles and all the tissues liquefied and fell down into a vessel that he seemed to be standing upon. This time around he felt like his body was being sucked off his bones from thousands of tubes stuck to his bones. Of course there was no evidence to suggest any such thing had happened. In fact a casual observer would think that the flesh had merely melted away; assuming that the observer could afford to be objective when confronted by such a spectacle.
Manish was at a loss then to explain the feeling of being boiled alive until his innards evaporated in a blazing moment. The sensation was indescribable but it could be vaguely be likened to being shut inside a pressure cooker at high heat. His tissues started becoming porous and Manish could feel himself thinning acutely. A cook would have felt his tenderness and pronounced him soup ready. As it happened there was no cook and nobody to extract him from this slow melting. It was even more intense this time around and to his horror he was only made of bones now. The remains of his flesh were whisked away and all that was left of him was his skeletal underpinning.
The skeleton called Manish stood in the moonlight suffering from primal sensations that no human being should entertain. His sunken eye sockets spoke of a trauma so deep that would take years to excavate inside the abyss of his previously mortal self. A doctor would have pronounced him incapable of suffering pain because he had no nerves left at all. But how could Manish explain that the sudden emptiness of his being was like having a suction pump suck the life out of his body. That relentless sensation ladies and gentleman did hurt just like it would if you squeezed a balloon until it burst.
He had no eyes but yet he was able to see everything. This puzzled him beyond belief for it practically defied the laws of biology. Perhaps human laws had ceased operating from the moment he was touched. The Manish-skeleton wanted to desperately sit down but he could not bend his limbs. He tried very hard until he realized the paradox. He had a desire to sit down but no means to do so. He did not have a brain to tell the muscles what to do nor did he have the muscles to move the joints of his skeleton. All in all it is a very tedious situation.
He was relieved when he saw the apparitions moving towards him again. This time there was a silvery powder that was applied to his skull which felt warm and wonderful. However to a forest animal he would look like weird kind of candle with a flame flickering on top. Of course Manish-skeleton was not aware of this since he had no eyes or mirror to see himself with. He felt the warmth spreading downwards from the top of his skull. After a long time (which he had no way of guessing), he realized that he was foreshortened! A thin film of dust would develop and they would blow the dust into an urn that seemed to appear just when needed.
Time passed by in meaningless manner until the urn filled up and Manish-skeleton was no more.
Now you or I would have stood there if we had the courage and declared that Manish was gone. But Manish himself did not feel like he was nothing. He still seemed to be there and could see everything that was happening. For some reason or the other, everything was happening in slow motion. The wind was creeping like a snail bending the leaves ever so slowly. A drop fell slowly from the sky and then another one followed it. The clouds seemed to inch across the sky like some kind of giant prop being pulled into position.
All at once Manish was left alone. He was now a diaphanous cloud who rose above the trees and into the sky. Anyone seeing a vapor stream trail up from the woods would have been entranced by the cloud kissing the tree tops. They would have thought no more about it but that was not the case with the Manish-cloud. It (he) spread itself thin and wide diffusing through the skies delighting in the new found freedom. Other gilt edged clouds joined him (it) converging from all sides.
But in life and perhaps in death, nothing is what it seems. Manish-cloud realized that the apparitions had taken the form of giant clouds and in fact were holding some kind of immense translucent panes boxing him in. Terror finally struck Manish-cloud deep in his consciousness but it was all to no avail. There was no stopping the inexorable march of his future. He was finally trapped in a box as huge as Mount Everest itself and he felt himself condensing. Rumbling rent the air as Manish-cloud started contracting at an incredible pace. A lot of time passed (maybe days) and eventually they managed to collect all the Manish-water into a jar. All thought had stopped by now and there was only a continuum of clouds skimming the heavens.
The emperor strode to the table and sat down surveying his plate with rheumy eyes. He drank the nectar first and as it slid deep inside of him, the color of his skin changed to silvery blue. Next were the fine shavings that would cause his skin to glow and stretch a bit. It took him the better half of a minute to finish the dollops. The traditional rich thickened broth looked inviting in a large bowl and he did not hesitate to dig in eating noisily with his soup spoon. He could feel himself growing stronger with every bite. Finally, only the dessert dust remained which was a delicacy among the elite. He mixed it with a dash of warm milk and spooned it lovingly into his mouth. It was delicious as always and he could not help a noisy belch at the end of the meal.
A sumptuous meal is a delight to the senses and the emperor was no stranger to the joys of the palate. He summoned his cooks and complimented them on a meal well done. Entire farms were devoted to the well being of the emperor. He always knew that the harvest was done with extreme care. The ingredients were selected with precision and cooked to perfection. He had lived for thousands of years following this perfect diet devised by his physicians. As the emperor of the fifth realm, he would only ever be served the best of his kitchen. Any dish that did not measure up was discarded without a trace.
It felt good to be the emperor of this realm.