There was no tomorrow for Mr J___, or at least that was what it looked like when he sabotaged the brakes like a butcher. His olive green Santro, which travelled so far without a hiccup, let out a mechanical scream and stopped on a deserted road spread across a secluded mountain.
Mrs J___, evidently taken by surprise over his erratic behaviour, wasted no time in putting forth her inquisition, ‘What happened?’ she asked.
But Mr J___ was too much into himself to satiate his wife’s curiosity. He grabbed his briefcase and flung his figurine out of the vehicle. Mrs J___ followed him in a haste. Seeing his parents in a jiffy, their son, N___ opened his side of the door when Mrs J___ instructed him to stay in the car itself. She then returned his attention to her husband.
‘What are you intending to do?’
Mr J___ gave a broad smile. His eyes shone and body arched in a way which made him resemble the fabled Gollum. Unnerved, his wife decided to hinder whatever initiative his husband thought to take. It was a little too late. He opened the briefcase and turned it upside down. Next moment, bundles of bills piled onto the ground.
Mr J___ gave one last look to the notes and turned on his lighter. His antics were beyond his wife’s comprehension, so before he could put them on fire, she caught hold of his hand.
‘What you think you are doing?’
‘Putting them on fire, obviously,’
‘What if we need them?’
Mr J___ held her shoulders and gazed deep into her eyes, ‘Listen, honey the food is turning into the jewels for the richest. People are dying of hunger everywhere. Bodies are piling up. Sooner or later only the richest will survive, rest will be history. This money you are so concerned for, will be worth nothing.’ He bent his head and sobbed for a few seconds. Then, he raised his head and smiled forcefully, ‘We are among the lucky few millions whom the government has chosen for the first phase after several tests. If this experiment then food and money will be least of our worries.’
Mrs J___ contemplated her husband’s words and nodded once she accepted his decision. He smiled and renounced the money to the fire and only when the last fragment of the green turned ashen, he resumed his journey.
Rest of the driving was bland apart from N___’s insistent effort to know the cause of burning the money.
After a while they arrived at the scientific facility situated at the top of a secluded mountain. The humdrum of the journey lessened considerably, but it persisted a little.
They were made to sit in the waiting room on one of the last three chairs. There, the spouses sunk into introspection and only returned when the sound of their son’s yelling permeated the air. Panicked, Mrs J___ looked about her to find N___ absent.
‘Where is N___?’
She put forth a question to which Mr J___ had no answer, so they stormed out of the room and towards the epicentre of their son’s scream. N___ was in a scuffle with a girl older than of her age over a Flemish. Her mother was under constant effort to put an end to the quarrel, but neither kids were ready to let go of the animal, who was quite frightened. Mrs J___ intervened and put an end to the fight and apologized for her son’s erratic behaviour.
‘I’m sorry for my son, she said, ‘I don’t know why this kid got so stubborn over a mere rabbit.’
Mrs J___ had just finished her sentence when the girl’s mother jumped on her like a hound. Now the scuffle was in between the mothers and the children were its mute spectators. Somehow, Mr J___ put an end to their fight while an employee of the facility coerced the girl’s mother to leave the premises. Still, while leaving, the latter didn’t forget to give her a resentful stare.
‘This rabbit might be her husband’s final gift.’ Mrs J___ expressed her thoughts.
Before that thought could register significant impact inside Mr J___’s mind for him to make a reply, another scream (or a set of screams I must quote) distracted them. However, before either of them could understand anything, a cheetah appeared in front of them, tearing through a swarm of flailing people. It ran in their direction. They tried to move, but their feet yielded. With each second, the beast drew closer and all they could do was to wait for the end.
The cheetah made a leap, his mouth inches away from Mr J___. He closed his eyes, hoping the beast would at least spare his family. It was at that moment a dart pierced his neck. He crashed on the ground and after struggling for a few minutes, the animal lost consciousness. A team of professionals arrived and contained the animal, but they failed in containing their unease. It is only after the accompanying employee’s strenuous efforts and relentless persuasion, they decided to stay and forget the matter, but their son didn’t. It was not the fear of the beast, rather he was hell-bent on demanding the same rabbit as that of the girl’s and didn’t stop until Mr J___ bowed to his demands.
After a while, the family acquired the forms from the counter and made its way to one of the many admission corridors. The line was short but the wait was excessive. It took each person thirty minutes and only after three hours were they ushered into the laboratory. Mr J___ and family expected to see an ultra-modern facility to see them off to their new lives, but what they witnessed, washed their fragile hope through the waves of disappointment.
It was a large and empty room, with nothing but seven chairs attached to a wall and in place of opposite wall, an iron shutter was present. Apart from this, there was nothing which could amuse anyone. The monotony soon ended, when out of a sudden, the shutter lifted up, revealing an empty glass chamber, and in all the four corners of that chamber, immersed in a certain formula, four bare individuals floated alive but unconsciousness. This sight brought panic to the visitors, but before that thought could register any significant impact, the door opened and a certain doctor and her assistant conducted themselves in. The assistant handed the family another set of forms.
‘But I just filled out this form.’ Said Mr J___, confused by the need of filling another form.
‘That was preliminary. This is the detailed one. Answer some questions and fill up your preference,’ said the assistant.
When the doctor forayed into the intricacies of preferences, the whole family jumped in alarm.
‘Animals,’ said Mr J___.
‘Yes,’ replied the scientist, ‘Your transformation into an animal is the only salvation that the science could offer, but be wary this change will be permanent.’
The doctor finished her sentence and the family finally comprehended the reason behind the incidents that occurred a little while ago. Mrs J___ became restless, N___ was still clueless, and Mr J___ couldn’t help himself.
‘Why weren’t we informed about this beforehand?’
‘It would only have caused panic among the masses, and in these times of agony this is the last thing one will want,’ said the doctor, ‘and besides this is a choice, you can forgo it even now.’
The scientist’s statement caused a stir and an overflow of tears among the couple, while the son hopped in excitement, yelling Rabbit-Rabbit all along. Then, after a lot of introspection and judging that no other option is left, they agreed to the experiment, and N___ was the first one they opted to go.
The boy entered the chamber— amused. The assistant closed the door behind him. This confused and alarmed him. He rushed to the glass partition and stared at his parents. Mrs J___ walked up to the glass and placed her hand on it and smiled, assuring him that everything would be alright. N___ calmed down and sat on a chair pointed out by the assistant.
Mr J___ turned towards the lead scientist in confusion, while the latter turned her attention on the assistant, ‘Now.’
In reply the assistant pressed a button on the wall. The moment it happened, the beings in the cylindrical chambers stirred, and N___ screamed. Alarmed, Mr J___ and his wife rushed to the wall. The lead scientist assured them, ‘Don’t worry, transfiguration invites agony, but rest assured it will be worth it.’
In front of their very eyes, their son twisted and curled in some of the most horrendous and agonizing ways. His skin pulled back like a bed sheet, his body shrank to impossible proportions, and sprouted an impossible amount of hair which continue to grow further without an end; all amidst the screaming. Mr J___ fell on his knees. His wife buried her face in her hands. This endured for a few minutes and afterwards everything fell silent. The couple raised their heads and in place of their son found a Flemish giant rabbit sniffing around. Mrs J___ watched the phenomenon in alarm, ‘What devilry is this?’ she said.
‘No. A miracle. The culmination of billions of aspirations through these clairvoyants,’ said the scientist, ‘These beings channel their hopes and create a source of energy so great that nothing in the entire space could match it. They can mould any matter, any cells into the forms suited best to the subject. They are our only hope. The only salvation of the doomed humanity.’
Mr J___ further bent on his four limbs like a beaten pup. Rhythmic shivers ebbed through his body, which increased tenfold. His wife gave him an empathetic gaze and walked into the chamber after the assistant removed the rabbit. Mr J___, nearly embracing the ground, now gave out awkward moans. The scientist kept her hand on his shoulder, ‘Take solace in the fact that now you don’t have to struggle to obtain food.’
The experiment was repeated and the wife transfigured into a Quetzal, ‘A quetzal? Never seen that one, interesting.’ The scientist turned her gaze on the Mr J___, who was in the same state as before. She again kept her hand on his shoulder and tried to move him, ‘This should lift up your spirits.’
Mr J___ suddenly jerked her hand away and glanced up at the ceiling. His countenance alarmed the researcher. It was not lament that pinned him in his position, but an insane mirth. He then twisted his neck in impossible direction burst into demented laughter; tears oozing out of his eyes like the water through a collapsing dam. He jumped on his feet, pushed both the researcher and her assistant on the ground, and exploded through the room, laughing and screaming Animals! Animals!
by Nishant Verma