Mahtab Narsimhan

THE DEADLY CONCH

Excerpt:

Tara knew that this was far from over, but try as she might, she could not figure out what Layla or Kali would dream up next. She dozed at long last, trying to ignore the oppressive heat, the terrible thirst clawing at her throat, the coir of the cot biting into her back, and her clothes stinking of acrid sweat.

She wandered through the barren land. There were no trees or huts. Huge boulders dotted the landscape. Cliffs stood like sentinels in the distance. A red sun lay dying on the horizon, its lifeblood staining sky, earth, and even her hands, a vivid crimson.

She was all alone.

“Over here, Tara,” someone called out.

She whirled around. The landscape was still deserted. Where was the caller hiding? The sun sank lower. Shadows slithered over the rocks. They came from every direction now, converging on Tara, lapping at her heels with black tongues.

“Here, Tara.”

The voice seemed to be coming from a crevice between two large boulders, a fissure darker than night. And very narrow. She ran toward it.

“Anyone in there?” asked Tara. “Come out where I can see you.’

“Come in, I’m waiting,” someone said. She thought she recognized the voice, the name hovered at the edge of her memory, elusive as smoke.

Tara looked around her.

The shadows had all but devoured the light. Sullen stars hung in the inky sky. They seemed to be glaring down at her, unrelenting in their gaze. A cold wind caressed her cheek. Tara stepped into the crevice and started walking. The narrow walls grazed her arms, a dank smell filled her nose. Deeper and deeper she walked. “Are you still there?” she asked. “Show yourself.”

“It’s over, Tara,” said the familiar voice. “For you and your family.” Then there was silence.

A trap! She had to get out! Tara turned to leave. A wall of flames erupted in front of her, growing taller and fiercer, reaching for the sky. She screamed and turned around. Fire behind her, too. Fingers of flame reached out for her, scorching her skin. Smoke filled her nose and her lungs, choking her.

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