I’m away at the moment, becoming a property magnate in Scotland (I’m buying a house). Here’s a short story. to keep you going in my absence. It’s about a thousand words long, so you can enjoy it during a coffee break. If you enjoy it, then share the hell out of it.
‘Sharan Gali’ first appeared in the charity anthology Kizuna: Fiction For Japan in 2011.
The day was a drought, and Ashish drove from one end of New Delhi to the other seeking relief and custom. Hot sun whacked the canvas roof of his auto rickshaw. Only by moving, encouraging a breeze to blow through the open sides of the tiny three-wheeler, could he make the atmosphere bearable. He had heard of places in the world where the sun was worshipped. Perhaps it was kinder to the people there, and more deserving of their love.
There had been fares – rupees here and there – all from countrymen who stared religiously at his meter during short journeys. They had bought another day of food for his daughters, but no more a future than that.
Dispirited, he turned onto Shanti Path, into the district of Chanakyapuri. Behind the stretches of verdant green grass on each side of the road, the eyes of the world hid behind high walls. This was where embassies clustered, chunks of other nations cut adrift from their homelands and transplanted into India. Some he recognised. The United Kingdom. America. Australia. Countries that called to his countrymen with dreams of gold and riches. Passing their embassies made his life feel somehow larger. Sometimes there were rich fares to be had on Shanti Path, from foreigners with no idea the value of the rupees they waved about.
Near Norway’s gate a tall, muscled white man with a shock of long red hair scanned the traffic. His grey suit was pressed and expensive. Ashish pulled in with expectant eyes. Mr Red climbed into the back seat and the auto sank a little beneath him. Ashish eyed his enormous passenger in the rear view mirror. “Where?”
“No.” Asylum Alley. He would take no man there.
“Yes. Name your price.”
Ashish scanned his vocabulary for words to explain. Some drivers had taken foreigners into that black hell. They came back alone, rumours of abduction and dark rites at their heels, meeting questions with cold silence and haunted eyes. There was one certain way to end the discussion, and he touched the image of Ganesh dangling from his handlebars in a prayer to reason. “Twenty thousand rupees.”
“Fine.” Mr Red nodded despite the ridiculous price, settled back in his seat, and sealed their fates. Stunned, his moral principles slapped aside by the sum on offer, Ashish eased into the evening traffic.
The sun collapsed beneath the horizon as though fearful of what was to come. Mr Red’s bulk flattened the auto’s inadequate suspension, and they jolted awkwardly along Delhi’s hidden by-ways. Ashish did not wish to be seen on this shameful journey, and matched his route to that purpose.
It did not take long to get there. No journey to Sharan Gali ever did. The entrance was a narrow gap between two collapsing tin huts, but it did not always matter which two huts they might be. The darkness beyond the entrance was blacker than Kali’s dreams. Ashish slowed, giving a final plea. “Is not safe.”
Mr Red, a bulky shadow, shifted, rocking the auto. “You are a good man. Drive on please.”
As they entered the alley, the light from his single headlamp seemed to recoil.
The first people Ashish saw were dead. They drifted in mournful, incorporeal circles around a man whose face might once have been imperious, but was now wasted with despair. He sat on the edge of the dirt track, huddled beneath a faded black robe. The ghosts beseeched him with imploring eyes, as though entreating him to majesty.
Back rigid with awe, Ashish glanced at his mirror.
“Drive on,” said his passenger. “There is a place prepared for me.”
As the disenfranchised lord and his dead receded into darkness, the auto’s light found an upturned wooden boat. Perhaps drawn by the noise of the engine, the occupant leaned out, his naked torso too powerful a frame for the withered muscles that clung to it. He had the oversized head of a kite balanced on his quivering neck.
Ashish swallowed bile.
The creature reached out a hand in supplication, dull beady eyes latching not on the wealthy passenger, but on Ashish himself.
“Drive on,” came the backseat rumble. “Many here hunger for what you can provide.”
Following a curve in the road, they passed a shallow dip in the ground. The muddy, drying remains of a forgotten rainfall wetted the centre. Sitting in the viscous mud was another emaciated giant, his tangled auburn beard reaching down his naked chest and pooling in his lap to protect his modesty. Scooping mud in his shovel hands, he smeared it across his mighty torso, weeping openly, his grief and longing piteous. Sunk into the mud by his side, the snapped, rusting upper portion of a massive trident.
“Drive on,” said the passenger.
The lamp lighted on a dwelling of corroded corrugated iron. Half buried in the dirt at the dwelling’s entrance, a mighty hammer. Two emaciated goats lay panting on their sides , insects scurrying through their tangled fur, the moist stench of pus rolling from them.
“Stop,” said the passenger, and climbed out.
Ashish watched the man strip out of his suit and shirt, wanting to flee but desperate for the monies promised. The passenger wrapped a mangy fur cloak around his shoulders, throwing his discarded clothes in the back of the auto. “You will find my wallet in the jacket pocket. Sell the suit, if you wish.”
Ashish stared, and the stranger settled to the ground. Looking up, his outstretched hand absently patting the flank of a goat, he sighed. “Old ideas,” he said.
Ashish shook head.
“Dead beliefs, decayed concepts, forgotten gods. Dried up memories of divinity.”
“We have claimed asylum.” He looked wistful. “So many gods in your land. Such a capacity for belief in your people. We bathe in the afterwash of your devotion. Your deities tolerate us because they fear us. We are their future.”
Glancing at Ganesh’s image, Ashish revved his motor, letting it voice his desire to leave.
The old god held him by the eyes. “Promise you will return. Lie to me that you will bring me a cup of your belief and let me sup.”
“Then go, and remember me when you make your offerings. Remember the starving old gods, and save a prayer for us.”
I hope you enjoyed it (and if you did, then as I said at the top of the post please do share it as widely as you like). If this is the first bit of my fiction that you’ve tried, and you want more, I recommend my novel Thy Fearful Symmetry. It’s chock full of gods and monsters, and has an actual apocalypse in it (because there is no point in doing things by half).
Next year, I’d like to give you a new short story every week. I can only do this if you send me the coolest photo or piece of art you’ve ever made. Go and have a look at The 52, and help me make stories.