The Catapult.

From his early years, the child showed multi talents. At the age of two he copied a painting hanging in the drawing room. The child had sketched the outline of the picture on a piece of paper with just a few simple pencil strokes and which pleased his parents great deal, for that brilliant piece of artwork. He was rewarded five rupees by his father.
Encouraged he began to show a lot of interest in both literary and visual fields.

At the age of nine, he was reading short stories and poems from well-known authors published in various journals and which highly impressed his parents but at the age of ten he began to show restlessness and boredom with his studies at the school. He happened to be too clever and super sensitive child who got easily bored by school subjects and sought to find satisfaction within other non-school activities in outdoor pursuits.

The child, Romesh, began to show such tendencies and began to skip school on certain afternoons firstly and soon he became a regular truant from the school. He hated physical training periods at the school where you had to dance to the tune of the physical instructor, twisting your arms, legs and other parts of the body. He hated his PT master and did not want to attend his classes. When the other pupils went to their PT training in the yard outside, he gathered his books into his satchel and simply escaped to the fields surrounding the town.

To his eyes and senses nature was less boring and more exciting. He liked looking at the birds of different plumage and paid attention to their different singing notes. He would sit under a tree to listen to their melodies and found that they worked like some great composer, composing different tunes at different times of the days and thought that feathered creatures were familiar with different ragas, may be in their own birdie way. With the coming of various seasons, he watched them building their nests twig-by-twig and performing their physical task cheerily. When the nests were fully built, he watched birds laying eggs of different sizes and shapes.One day he found some squirrels with their bushy tails and bright eyes, climbing onto a tree on which a bird had made a nest and he knew they were going to go for the eggs, which they would eventually consume as their food and simply destroy sucking the juices inside and eat the outer shells. He chased them away but when he returned after few days the nest was empty and he suspected the squirrels have done their cruel deeds. He began to develop a grudge against those gray devils. He saw other kids using catapults in the streets and wanted to build one for himself. He found a tree branch forking into two, cut the suitable length and began to powder down its surface with a glass paper. He bought a strong elastic rubber, tied it to the wooden piece and made himself a catapult with a central portion of leather, into which he placed a small stone. When he pulled it to its maximum length and released, the stone catapulted like a bullet.He found a freedom in his wanderings and a new zest of living ushered in by that liberty. They only thing that marred it was his guilt of truancy. In the long run teachers were bound to find out about it and it would not simply stay with them but would be passed to his parents and then whole episode would be aired publicly upsetting every one. His father would be angry and would expound all sorts of clichés as to the wrong paths taken by his son and he had to listen to all about his childhood when he was so good and never upset his parents. But what about his mother? She would cry her heart out and would take to lying in the bed for long afternoons and shedding big tears. It would be such a tedious scene. For the time being he had simply to take advantage of his situation and not think about all future happenings. Live for the day as he read somewhere.

Slowly he extended his hours of truancy and brought it forward from early hours of schooling. He loved to watch the morning dew and its effect on the countryside. There was a feeling of freshness in the air and when the new rays of the sun struck, it set everything glistening making the mirrored world a joy to watch and be alive. He watched the gossamer’s web with all those encrusted dew drops, like a garland studded with jewels and a little sleepy spider inside just waking up and hoping for a nice meal of some tasty flesh for its breakfast, in the shape of some poor wandering insect or a fly.

Romesh’s boredom with the school continued. As a matter of fact it increased and his truancy rate began to increase in proportion to the hatred of his teachers at school and his fellow pupils. He found them to be totally dull without a spark of intelligence or originality. With his catapult handy he began to shoot at things from great distance just like the pistol target practice. He began to explore greater and greater circumference of the countryside around his town. One day he found an old abandoned house, which looked very dark and sinister and wanted to find out as to who it belonged to. His enquires yielded that it belonged to a sinister old fellow who used to be an eccentric recluse and who liked to live in the wilderness, away from human habitation as he did not like the people around him very much.

He further came to know that the old man just vanished a few years ago and whether he committed suicide or died at the hand of some assassin, nobody knew. With that sinister association people began to shun that spot, on account of it being a haunted and which fascinated Romesh, as he was always on look out for something dark and sinister as something different and out of the way for common folks and their petty comprehensions.

One day he visited the place and smashed a windowpane with his catapult aiming from a distance and he thought he heard some growling voice from within the house and though he ran off but promised himself to come back for further investigations. He did visit the house each day and one by one smashed all the glass in the windows. It became a sort of amusement to him to hear the voices from within whenever another window was smashed. One day when he went to the house to smash the last window, he thought that he saw a figure standing behind a tree in the vegetation surrounding the house and became curious about that figure hiding itself. It might have been a thief or some new occupant, he thought. He tip-towed to the house and looked through the broken window but did not find any one inside except pile of broken glass pieces of all his handiwork. He was going to turn away as to find something more interesting to smash but suddenly found himself in the grip of something. He realized that a cold clammy hand grabbed him from behind and was gripping his neck. He could not turn around to see the thing, as that grip was too strong for him to turn around. Slowly the thing pushed him inside the house where it became dark, cool and icy. As his eyes became accustomed to darkness, he saw an old bed with torn sheets hanging over it and there was someone sleeping in the bed. Soon there was a movement beneath those sheets and he let out a scream.

He was pushed to the edge of the bed and instructed to touch the lying figure sleeping there. A gruffy voice like some distant echo told him to examine it, properly. He tried to take the wrappings away but there were so many layered wraps like that of an Egyptian mummy, as you see in the museums. Suddenly the wrapped figure stirred and he fell backwards with a scream unable to face the forthcoming sight .He was grabbed again by the same hand from behind and forced to stand and was instructed, he thought psychically, to deal with the figure lying in the bed. With trembling hands and half closed eyes he touched the wrapped figure again and began to take its wrappings. He felt in a grip of panic and thought he was going to pass out with his heart was throbbing with terror and disgust.

There were so many layers of wrapping and which he was forced to take away one by one. Liquid was oozing out of that body like puss and the smell was pungent, over-powering, rotten and extremely foul. Nausea came over him. He thought himself to be in some dominion of hell in a house of death confronting all the corruptions of the world. When he took all the wrappings away, he found within a withered old figure with its half eaten face perhaps by the worms and very pulpy.

The deep gargling voice told him that he had to prepare it for its final funeral rites but Romesh did not know anything for such preparation a body for funeral. It was the first time that he had seen a dead body if you could call it a ‘body’. He was told to wash the body for its final cremation. He simply could not undertake such disgusting job and tried to run away but as he was caught near the exit, grabbed and dragged all the way to the bedside of the corpse in order to restart his task.The sun had set outside and it was getting dark inside and imagine the horror he had to face alone in that house of death, at that tender age. He was given a bucket and a rag to go outside and fill the bucket with water from the little stream flowing outside. He filled the bucket and with the rag as a sponge began to wash the body, each time he squeezed the sponge a blackish red liquid oozed out of it but he had to go one washing the body from toe to head or whatever was left of it and renewing the dirty water in the bucket each time with fresh supply.

He was instructed then to prepare a funeral pyre for the cremation of the body. He went around to find pieces of wood, twigs, dry leaves or anything combustible and which he put underneath and around the bed. It was not enough and he had to take an axe from a dark corner of the building and to chop the walls of the old building with its rotting wooden structure. It was a hard physical task and even that in semi darkness and it took him ages to build up enough fuel to burn the foul lying thing. His heart was pounding and blood was rushing into his veins and brains but his mind became numb to save him from the disgust and horror of the task he was going through to perform.

Dawn was coming across the eastern horizon when he put the final torch to the pyre and flames began to slurp and burn around the body with large tongues, trying to devour everything into ashes. But whole of the body did not burn and he had to smash the skull and maneuver it with a pole and push it to the flames. He sat exhausted on the ground looking at the sight. Suddenly there was a big explosion and the whole house blew up and turned into a volcano of fire with columns of billowing smoke rushing forth and he felt that the whole building had catapulted into the sky.

Romesh did not turn up at his home that evening and was missing from the school too. A search party was sent out and a last they found him in the fields lying unconscious. The surrounding ground was charred and burnt away as if by an explosion of some sort. He was held down by strong hands onto his bed as he was trying to run away screaming and kicking. He lay there into a sort of coma unaware of his surroundings He regained his consciousness after a few days but his nightmares and day mares continued for a while.

Durlabh Singh ©2008.

The Catapult.

Durlabh  Singh

London, United Kingdom

  • Artist

Artist's Description

I am a fiction writer based in London.

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