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By Kartheik Ganesh Iyer
The long, empty corridor was long, and empty.  Slashes of vivid colouring stood stark against the peeling paint, and the whitewash beneath, a testament to events of the past, a wordless tribute to the martyrs of yesteryear. One old wooden door, slightly ajar, seemed to creak of its own volition. Apart from that, all that was still continued being still. The door, stained with a blotch of vivid crimson, now drying to a more forensic brown, creaked once more, and then opened by a fraction of an inch. A wary eye proceeded to survey the surroundings with all the caution of one who has had to grow accustomed to such surroundings, and survive. And surviving was not easy, the vultures were all well fed, and lay about on the roofs and turreted roofs, unable to move a flaccid wing until it was time for feeding again. 

And yet, today was the day of reckoning. There were no two ways about it. He stepped out, still crouched, till he appeared almost bent double, and once again surveyed his surroundings. Almost all of the doors were ajar, the rooms empty. Casualties. He sighed, and then stiffened again. Wariness was his code, and he lived by it, and it, in turn, had allowed him to live to see another day. Almost involuntarily, his hand went down to feel the reassuring bulge in his pockets, he was loaded. Although what his pittance in the way of ammunition would accomplish, he didn’t know. Or rather, he didn’t want to think about it. Once he was on the field, things would work themselves out. They always did. 

He stepped out completely. No overhead missile came at him, the range was too less, and yet, there was no shortage of trigger happy adolescents, heedlessly drawn into this merciless fray. He would have felt sad, if he had the capacity to feel anything any longer, but this was neither the time nor the place for it. With another crouching movement, he sprinted forward, his hands never leaving the vicinity of his pockets, like a quick-draw pistolero, the blisters at his feet causing him an endless amount of agony. 

He came to a bend, and paused. Not the way a truck does, when it reaches a pit stop, but like a cat being offered a fish, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet, ready to spring either way. There were two unprotected entrances, either of which could house his enemies, which, at this point, was anybody who was not him. He breathed lightly, and reassured himself. The opening would most likely be empty. Who would be lurking so far from the epicenter of activity? He turned and strafed lightly towards the bend, and then, suddenly, knew he’d made a mistake. Of course they would be there, the scavengers. Always on the lookout for easy prey. Darn it. Now, his back was turned towards them. They couldn’t have been in a better position if they’d asked him to dress up in the costume of a duck and hold a bull’s eye.

And as he stood and thought of all this, his body screamed at him to take some kind of action. Move, damnit. He felt it on his back. Aim for the biggest target, that way, you’ll take something out, even if you miss. They had taught him, and now the hunter was the prey. Desperately, he twisted away, bending at the knees and pivoting on one foot till he was level with his assailants. Something brushed past his shoulder, and burst a short distance away. He felt his shoulder being showered with the fallout, sudden warmth. With a single bound, he reached the other opening and ducked inside. He touched his shoulder, and his hand came away wet, stained with red. He was hit. He swore under his breath, and then caught himself. Never lose your cool, son.  He braced himself, and thought of what to do next.

He spotted an inside passage, the way it was leading seemed to suggest that it met the outside world at the other opening. Good, he thought grimly. This is just what he wanted. But what if they wanted him to come this way, baiting him on with no other choice, till he would find both exits closed off, and then…he did not want to think about it. He sprinted off into the darkness. 

Soon enough, he saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and the silhouette against it. Blending into the surroundings, he hoped that the silhouette was alone. With one quick movement, he snuck up on the unknown factor, and grappled him from behind. The assailant brought up another of the things he had initially used as a projectile, an oblong, green shape that he knew all too well. Was he insane? If he uses it in such confined surroundings, neither of us will survive. Desperately, he wrestled the thing away, and then spotted an entire bucket of the things lying nearby. Bloody hell. With one lunging movement, he bodily lifted up his opponent, and threw him towards the bucket, not heeding his frantic screams, and ran. The repercussions must have shaken the entire building. How did he get hold of such a crapload of firepower anyway? Something was wrong. 

As he got closer to the entrance of the building, things just seemed to get worse. The streaks of red on the wall did nothing to assuage his confidence, but he had no other choice. Whatever was in his pockets seemed pitifully inadequate now. Bodies lay on the ground, clothing tattered, faces black and blue, distorted out of all recognition. He might have even known some of them. He felt sorry that he could not feel sorry for them. Not now. 

And then he was out. The first thing that that assailed him was the awful noise. Then his eyes adjusted to the light, and the whole fray spread itself out in front of his eyes. Deadly in its intensity. He had not imagined that so many people had gotten involved in the rising. Even women and children had been dragged into it. Could nobody be spared? He darted out. If he could get the ringleaders, maybe the carnage could be reduced, some victims spared. Amidst the crowd, he spotted a face. One that he knew well. The color drained from his face as he saw the state it was in. One half of his entire face and body was stained red. He ran to meet him, shouting, screaming that he was here, he could help, but before he could reach, the body was engulfed in a wave of other bodies, obscured, and ceased to be an entity. What was no longer visible no longer existed.

And now their eyes turned on him. In the excitement, the heat of the motion, the passion of being in furious motion, the crowd behaved as a single organism, and he was the odd one out. Missiles showered on him like rain, coming from all directions, heedless of what should happen if it hit anybody else. He ducked, and they whistled harmlessly overhead. He ran aimlessly through the crowd, throwing it into disarray, using whatever reflexes his quickly tiring body would permit him, getting dyed red in the process. Some of it his own, the rest from the people around him. He felt a tugging presence near his waist. He turned back, and to his horror, saw that it was a woman. His code, even in such times, prevented him from any action against the fairer sex. He desperately tried twisting away, but to no avail. With a crazed look in her eyes, she pressed the lever of her instrument, a spray of liquid burst out, red as the setting sun, the moment it embedded itself against his skin. Apparently satisfied, she trundled away, looking for her next victim.

Someone, caught him as he staggered forward, a complete stranger in a sea of chaos, a holy crusade, where it did not matter on what side you were on, as long as you wore the robe of colours that the field bestowed on all of the indulging parties. He was released, and staggered forward, a red handprint on his torso the only remnant of the chance encounter. He did not even remember the face. 

He struggled on, his body performing the motions required of him mechanically, twisting, turning, throwing, dodging, as soon, he resembled anyone else in the crowd. His foot slipped in a puddle of red liquid, and he fell, peacefully exempted from all further activity. It was a holy, holey, holie, holi, day.


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