Beginning of the end
I woke up as if it were an emergency. My back hurt from the stony ground. Lying with a sore body on the forest floor so woven with ancient tree roots came a light filtered by the bouquet of foliage above softened, verdant, and freshly aromatic. My eyes soaked up every ray of light, and I knew I’d slept too long. It wasn’t until sometime that my foggy brain started clearing up and a faint knowledge of who I am beneath the flow of thoughts with their shaky connections to my waking life emerged from the carousel of random ideas. After a few moments, I began to analyze them but everything was still haphazard.
And then it started. The rain of ink. With each drop, my memory got refreshed. I remembered the power my creator had bestowed upon me to save the world. Yet, the burden of a tragic destiny overshadowed all my wins. Soon the final few moments of my last life dawned upon me.
It was these woods where I had met my nemesis once again. But, I wasn’t alone that day. The love of my life, Sophie, was fighting the battle alongside me.
The ink kept on dripping, drenching me with the memories of my previous life. The life of a magical superhero was a lonely one until I met The One. I remembered the few days of bliss I spent with my sweetheart before the face-off with the villain started. Similar to all other stories in the world, in the fight between good and evil, the good triumphed at the end. But, it took away that one reason I was living for. She vanished into oblivion, saving me from the curse hurled at us. In a moment of mishap, I was again all alone in the world. Her sacrifice however did not go in vain. It left a powerful aura of protection that helped me defeat the scourge before getting stuck by a bolt of occult lightning.
I knew my almighty had fresh plans for me but this time I will not be a puppet in his hand. I will write my destiny now.
The author’s tale
“The first step to writing a great story is being truly honest about your own emotions to yourself. It is all about dreaming upon a page, and letting the subconscious come out to play.”
The best-selling author of the Henry Johnson series, Joe Rio was narrating his writing journey on a popular YouTube show. His last two books about the young superhero with magical power, fighting evil to save the earthlings have been a huge success among the readers.
“The second book ended in a cliffhanger. What can we expect in the third installment? Will Henry find love again?”
The anchor had shared the questionnaire with the interviewee well in advance.
Joe was waiting for this question. Now was the time to seize the hype with a subtle promotion. He took a sip of the tea offered and started his well-prepared answer.
“Henry defies the norm and chalks his own path. I am just a medium to help his stories to reach the audience. All I can say, the mystique bolt that had rendered him unconscious, would change him in more ways than one can imagine. You will be in for a surprise in the third installment.”
And the seed was sowed.
It wasn’t long after the show was aired that Twitter was abuzz with #Henryandthelighteningbolt. Reddit users were busy deducing fan fiction. The most popular being the resurrection of the fallen heroine.
While the readers were fighting their wars on social media, the author was burning his midnight oil to complete the manuscript.
Henry was out to face new combatants armed with new power and encumbered grief. It was one of those good days, the words were flowing in abundance.
The physical wounds healed in a few days, but the lesion that scarred my mind was still afresh. Time and again, the creator had destroyed my happiness. My tragedy had been his cash cow for years.
I was orphaned even before I could utter mamma and landed up in the shabby orphanage. It wasn’t one of those lovely homes for the lesser fortunate but a hell in itself. Even before I knew what it meant, I was assaulted. They would send us to those perverts and make a business. The pillage invoked my inner power, but I still did not know how to control it. And in the process, I lost my best friend and only confidante. Still, I fought the battle my originator chose for me and along the journey found my one true love. But, the creator wasn’t done yet. He took her away even before I could properly say goodbye.
And now he wants to adduce my agony again for his business. But, this time unknown to himself he has armed me with a weapon that will destroy his kingdom. The plan will soon be launched.
Darkness had arrived like the thick velvet curtains of the theatre. In that dark room, there were shapes in monochrome that could be a scene from any black-and-white movie. As the vision got adjusted to the lack of light the silhouettes became more discernible. Joe let his eyes wander the furniture and the four concrete walls with a locked door while trying to discern how he landed up there.
The last thing he remembered was typing on his Macbook, making his way through the climax of his story. The next moment, he was waking up in this god-forsaken place. He tried to move and realized his immobility. Nothing was making any sense. For several seconds there was no sound except for his own breathing until he heard some footsteps outside.
A pause and then someone opened the door with a click. Forgetting he was tied down, Joe tried to get up from the chair and the nylon rope cut his skin deeper.
The one who entered the room seemed to be familiar with the setup. The lack of light did not deter his movement. To Joe’s surprise, the person did not approach him directly. He walked up to a candlestick and lit some candles instead. In the amber glow of wax, the feature of the man, or rather a boy in his late teen became prominent. Sharp jaws, brown hair, lanky figure, and sparkling green eyes – the familiarity of the face was uncanny. Yet Joe could not put his finger on the right name or recognize where he had seen this guy.
“Surprised sir? I am sorry I had to summon you like this. But, you left me no other choice.”
His raspy voice had a deep timbre, the kind that anchors the listener to a single moment in time.
“But, who are you?” was all that Joe could whisper out.
The boy looked more hurt than surprised at his ignorance.
“This is unexpected. A sharp jaw, brown hair, and green eyes – they are unfamiliar to you? Or is it the candles that are playing tricks with your eyes? I could have used an electric light but just thought candles would be more dramatic.”
Joe blinked his eyes hard. This was insane.
“Henry? But, that is not possible? You cannot be real.”
Joe could feel a huge lump of tension strangling his voice. Henry let out a snicker that went around the room.
“Is that so, Mr. Creator? I thought you said I make my own decisions and you are just a medium for my voice. You always wanted the world to believe that I am real and now you are denying my existence?”
“I, err,” Joe fumbled to find the right reply.
“The maestro of words rendered wordless? Tsk, Tsk. Such a pity.”
Joe was still trying to make sense of the scene as Henry enjoyed his plight and utter helplessness.
I have waited for years to see you like this Joe. You will soon know how it feels when somebody else tries to control your destiny.
Joe took another few moments to gather his thoughts. It was sure weird being kidnapped by your creation. But, there must be some exit, he thought.
“This cannot be for real, Henry. It is just happening inside my head. You are just manipulating my thoughts.” Joe tried to argue.
“Of course, it is happening inside your head, Joe, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
The cheekiness made Joe’s blood boil.
“Don’t you try pulling a harry potter quote on me, Henry. This is not funny. Release me right now.”
Joe’s voice was shaking in anger as he struggled to pull himself free of the clutches that were tying him down.
Yes. Scream, wriggle, and scream some more Joe Rio.
Henry was beaming within but, kept a stoic face as he continued the torment.
“Oh, now Harry Potter is irritating you? You should have thought that before you tried to play Nolan and gave me this unique power to invade others’ dreams and overpower their thoughts.”
Joe felt like the misunderstood Frankenstein facing his own monster. The plot got a serious derail. He needed to think something fast.
“The little brain has started working hard it seems?” Henry quipped into the pause. “But, if I were you I wouldn’t try to be extra smart. You remember right that if anyone dies in the dream sequence they will not wake up in the mortal world? By the way, did I tell you? Lara, your daughter is also here. ”
That was the last straw.
“Lara, why are you bringing her into this mess? What has she done to you?”
A part of him was still hoping that it was just a nightmare and he would wake up anytime. But that did not happen.
“Lara is a sweet girl but she is your life. And that is your favorite trope, right? Snatching away your reason to live? Who was next, my mentor, right?”
That was the actual plan but Joe couldn’t admit it in the current situation.
“Stop this drama immediately. You are my imagination. You cannot even touch her.”
Unable to take it anymore he was almost trembling and the shriek reverberated within the confines of the four walls.
Everything is going as per plan. This frustration, I like it.
“Now, now, don’t you lose your cool. We have to make some sane decisions. You see, as we discuss our predicaments over here, Lara is being held hostage by the ignoble necromancers. And you must be knowing how we brought her to this world. You elaborated on the scheme in the last chapter.”
Henry’s calm voice further fueled his vexation. Joe wanted to bite his own hand. Still, he did not give up. Not yet.
“The necromancers are your arch-rival. Why would you help them?” Joe tried to argue. His own words pulling out a revenge game on him using his ideas was so outrageous.
Henry pulled another chair from the corner and leaned back. Looking straight into the eyes of the author he gritted between his teeth, “And who made us enemies, Sir?”
Joe was too aghast to answer. This couldn’t be true.
“You see sir, we have realized that you have done injustice to all of us. They lost their leader to satiate your plot and I lost all my happiness to help your sales. It was time we came together to unfurl the true villain.”
The beautiful face of Lara flashed in front of his eyes and all that Joe could speak was,
“What do you want?”
The mortal beings are more treacherous than the worst of the villains in our world.
Joe made a deal with me. He had to bring back my love and boy, he did. Through a difficult ritual, we resurrected Sophie. And guess what I had to sacrifice in the rites? My power of invading other’s dreams. But, when she rose from death, she was not her earlier self. Undead yet not alive, she was tormented every moment on this earth. A few chapters down she was begging me to let her go, and I loved her too much to refuse. In the end, the renegade took away my power as well as my soulmate.
And you would think Joe stopped at that. I lost my mentor too in the process. He never deterred from his plotline.
8 months later
Henry Johnson and the Epiphany was a runaway hit. The book was raking in moolah everywhere and the publisher was all grins. Only the author was keeping it low-key. It was a surprise because Joe Rio was known for his pompous announcements, book tours, and social media engagements. However this time he was avoiding public appearance as much as possible. Critics said this was also a kind of promotion.
But, today was an important media interaction that Joe could not refuse. And then somebody asked him that dreaded question.
“Did you have any special experience while writing this book?”
The eloquent author went silent. It was an experience that he could never share. People would think he was losing his mental stability.
He thought for a while, then flashing his brightest smile replied, “You won’t believe me, but, Henry visited in person and changed the climax.”
There was a roar of laughter in the audience. Some truths are stranger than fiction and shouldn’t be messed with.