The full moon poked through the twilight above the Vile Parle skyline, as the exhausted engineering majors pushed past one another through the turnstile. It had been a long day of assignment submissions and all everyone wanted to do, was to go home and sleep.
As the industrial lights slowly started illuminating the college interior, the professors too packed up their bags, ready to call it a day and finally get some peace and respite. Milling around on the cracked concrete near the college entrance stood groups of freshmen newly dismissed from their last lecture, waiting for welcoming rickshaw drivers to pull up. Trains would soon get packed and there were still more assignments to be done.
As the conversations got animated they heard a loud scream from the third-floor staircase, echoing down to them through the windows. Everyone turned to look at the flying glass shards that came raining down; even the professors stood stunned looking up at the commotion.
Seconds later a lab assistant came rushing down from the stairs, asking hurriedly for help from anyone who would listen. Some of the freshmen recognized her from their physics lectures, but they'd never seen her this disheveled. She spoke hastily, pausing to catch her breath as the curious crowd stood enraptured. Any excitement was more than welcome at the end of the day.
However, as they listened in to the recapitulation a sense of dread slowly fell over them. Apparently there had been some sort of attack on a sophomore student from the Chemical Department. The student, whose name they later learned was Yash, had been cut on his hands and knees by an alleged ghostly attacker who had promised to return. Unnerved the students slowly thinned out and went back that day, still thinking about the alleged forthcoming attacks.
The next day the editorial team, aka the cool kids, who write for the college’s newsletter had gathered in the canteen to discuss their agenda for the week. Parth was recounting what had happened the previous day for those who missed it.
“....we have to cover yesterday’s attack in our articles this week. On-campus assault by a mystery man in one of the city’s most prestigious colleges. That already sounds like a front-page headline to me! We have to be the first ones to report this. Besides this is literally the most exciting incident to have happened in co-”
“He was ATTACKED for God’s sake. Do you always have to be so insensitive?” said Shikha.
Parth just responded with a face that said ‘you-know-what-I-mean’.
“I for once cannot believe that a week’s holiday hasn’t been declared already. I heard some guys in my class say that the psycho has promised to return. PROMISED TO RETURN??! He or she is probably roaming in the corridors as we talk and planning the next attack,” exclaimed Isha.
“Bold of you to assume that the person isn’t sitting amongst us. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility just yet.”
The moment Krittika said that everyone turned silent. They knew she meant it as a joke; her signature smirk was a dead giveaway. But they all struggled to laugh it off. Fear had started to creep into their minds.
“Anyway, we’re getting late for class so let us continue this later. And I agree with Parth. We should go ahead with this story for the Sunday post. Does anybody have any objections?”
Having received the approval to go ahead with the idea, Adrika continued, “Since you are free right now, Parth, I suggest you go find Bhoomika and make a list of all the witnesses. And we should meet before heading home so that we can discuss how to go about the interviews. Sound good?”
The ones who had a class rushed towards the elevators while Parth called Bhoomika and told her to meet him outside the canteen. He then turned towards Isha.
“She’ll be here in five, where are you going?”
“To buy a damn pepper spray.”
As planned, the six of them had a brief meeting on the benches at the entrance where Parth and Bhoomika brought the rest of the team up to date with their investigation. Lucky for them, Bhoomika, with her supreme persuasion skills, got the lab assistant to answer all their questions thoroughly.
The interrogation turned out to be incredibly fruitful as they gathered some crucial information. Apart from the lab assistant, the victim, and the mystery assailant, two guys were present outside the boys’ washroom on the same floor at the time of the attack. After matching faces with their description, the boys had names - Soham and Ansh, who were going to be interviewed the following day.
The next day, after going through the classes in a blur of excitement, the editorial team finally gathered around the canteen, in an attempt to brainstorm possible questions to ask. As they talked, Adrika spotted Soham weaving through the different cliques of the college, towards the other exit. He had a distinctly furtive look about him, and given his penchant for rough and tumble games, it seemed advisable to direct the first set of questions towards him.
The team split up, to cut Soham off in case he tried to bolt (often the case with recalcitrant suspects). Parth and Isha rushed after him, through the packed canteen, while the rest of the group ran out through the main doors. As soon as he saw them though, he sprinted in the opposite direction, an exit they had overlooked. Shikha and Krittika managed to catch up with him though, and trip him up. But as the rest of the team caught up with them, they saw decidedly exasperated expressions on their faces. It turned out that Soham had a secret girlfriend/boyfriend in the neighboring college, who he regularly rendezvoused with in the secluded backstreets, chowing down on dozens of KGN momos.
As they trudged back to the college, there was a flurried movement near the workshop area. Turning, they saw Yash, looking distinctly the worse for wear, walking towards them. He looked a little tired, and his Archbishop of Banterbury t-shirt had a hole near the hem. Looking at him, Parth felt something tickle the edge of his brain, but as he tried to pin down the thought, it slipped away. Bringing back his mind to the present, he tried to concentrate as the others asked Yash how he was feeling and interrogated him about the chain of events that lead to the attack. Yash seemed a little fuzzy on the details, but he remembered the attack and recounted it for them as Bhoomika wrote in a little notepad.
By that evening, they'd managed to track down Ansh, hanging out with Malhar. He was engaged in a heated conversation, which died down as the edi kids approached. He gave evasive replies to their questions and hurried out as soon as they finished. Turning to Malhar, who had hung around during the questioning with a funny look on his face, Isha and Adrika asked him if he had observed anything amiss near the boys’ washroom the other evening.
He flatly denied having been near the bathroom at the time of the attack but expressed his shock at the events. He also encouraged the team to find some better topics for their post, as this seemed like a penny dreadful novel.
The editorial team was quite flabbergasted by Malhar’s reaction to such an amazing idea for the post but nonetheless, they decided to go on with it and prove him wrong.
The very next moment; all of the editorial peeps gathered at the back end of the library which is often desolated with barely any trespassers at that time of the evening. They were slightly tired with all the thinking. Finally, after a brief moment of silence, Parth exclaimed, ”I think the lab assistant is the one behind all this treachery. I mean why would she even be there after the practical hours, not like she gets paid extra for it, does she?”
“But she said that she had forgotten her keys and hence had to rush back to fetch them," Bhoomika justified after examining her notes.
“Didn’t Yash seem a little off? I mean there was something different about his vibe, wasn’t it?” Shikha said, making others ponder about his behavior. Krittika immediately waved it off saying that it was probably because of the attack.
Adrika nodded in agreement and said, ”But what about Soham and Ansh? They aren’t in the Chemical department. Why were they loitering around there?”
While Bhoomika struggled through her notes for an answer, a low yet distinct murmur was heard - ‘FANDAN!’.
“Guys, did you hear that?”, Isha nervously asked.
“Seems like some Scots-fan has been eavesdropping on our investigation,” Krittika said nonchalantly.
They forged ahead in the direction of the murmur with Adrika leading the band. “There’s no one here, we must’ve been mistaken about it, let’s go,” said Bhoomika, too scared to explore the reality.
Meanwhile, Parth who was already half asleep sluggishly banged his head against a wall and swore under his breath. To his surprise, the wall made an evident creaking sound. “What’s this? Never seen this door before,” he exclaimed.
Shikha tried tapping and pushing on the wall, evidently a hidden door, with all her might but failed miserably nevertheless.
“There was someone behind this door and has managed to escape just in time. We need to get to the bottom of this. Enough of the hide and seek,” Isha said firmly and others agreed as an eerie breeze of tension developed.
The only problem was that they needed to figure out how to open the door. Parth suggested that they look for something to break open the door. Adrika, spontaneously thought of something and sprinted to the other side of the hallway. Baffled, everyone followed her to see where she was headed, finding it hard to keep up with her brisk pace. They saw her entering the chemistry lab, which was surprisingly not locked. She came out with a big flask full of something. Parth rolled his eyes while Isha curiously asked her, “What’s this? Why did you run to get it?” After catching her breath, Adrika replied that it was Regal Water, a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, a solution capable of dissolving metal, hence could also dissolve the lock! Everyone was speechless. Well, twelfth-grade chemistry helped someone at least!
Upon returning the library, they poured the entire flask over the lock and waited for the magic to begin. A few minutes passed, and voila! The lock of the door melted and they pushed open the door that led them to an underground dungeon. “What is this place…”, said Shikha, a tone of distress in her voice, while examining the area for possible threats. They entered an enormous tunnel-like place, covered in cobwebs and filth. There were some rusted pipes in one corner and some water was dripping from them. The area was very dusty and it became almost difficult to breathe. As they went deeper into the tunnel, it began smelling weirdly funky too, almost like something was burning. They then turned around and headed into some sort of cell and what they stood dumbfounded.
It was Yash! He looked dehydrated and unconscious and was tied up. Bhoomika rushed towards him, untying his hands and peeling off the tape from his mouth. She took some of the dripping water and splashed it on his face. Just then, they heard some noise. Isha and Krittika ran to find the person who was hiding there. They follow someone, as he heads out of the dungeon through another exit. He’s wearing a mask. He ran towards the back stairs near the workshop and up them. They were unable to catch up with him as he fled from the scene. When they return to the dungeon, they get badgered by questions being asked by everyone. Krittika attempted to catch her breath and meanwhile, held up a small piece of cloth with a tartan pattern on it that the mystery kidnapper dropped while he attempted to run up the stairs to get away from them. Suddenly, everyone knew who the kidnapper was.
The following day was the big one. Everyone was summoned to the Library Common Room. Malhar, Yash, Soham, Ansh, the lab assistant, and the editorial team. There was an evident nervousness in the room.
Adrika, taking charge, began addressing the suspects. She narrated what the edi lads had discovered over the course of the two days, darting occasional questions at them. It was almost like a second round of interrogation, this time, a passive one.
Bhoomika and Shikha were almost as nervous as the suspects. Fearing what would happen upon the arrival of a conclusion.
"Where were all of you yesterday evening at 6?" interrupted an impatient Isha, weary of Adrika's sanguine monologue.
The lab assistant was first to reply, claiming she was summoned by the department head for the scheduling of practicals. Well, that explained why the chemical laboratory was open the previous evening.
Soham and Ansh excused themselves by citing a DJ Lit meeting. They even mentioned that Malhar and Yash were absent from the meeting though.
The air in the room crackled with tension.
Krittika came forward, holding up the navy blue cloth with the tartan pattern. "Does anyone recognize this?!"
No one replied.
Isha meanwhile was taking rounds around the room and suddenly pushed Malhar forward. The push startled him, but the gesture didn't.
"We had our doubts from the very next day when the event took place. When we first interrogated Yash, he seemed relatively unscathed. Which was impossible owing to the way he was harmed. Oh, and on top of that, I had noticed him wearing a T-shirt that said 'Archbishop of Banterbury'. The very same T-shirt we had gifted a certain somebody on their birthday.", Parth said impassively.
Shikha, continuing the story, "Yash never spoke as much ever before as he did in the interview. With a vocabulary a little too alien to him."
"That's where you gave it up Malhar", yelled Bhoomika.
"Why did you do this? What did Yash ever do to you?", Adrika asked in a sad undertone.
"Because I'm in love with him!", shouted Malhar, "I've been in love with him from the day I first talked with him! When he let me borrow his belt right before the LIT interviews, it felt better than when the Scots scored 371 against those glorified Englishmen! I can't describe the feeling!"
Yash, trying to make sense of things, muttered, "You could have talked to me bud, we talk about everything. These edi kids, our godforsaken Chemical department, and even though I can't understand cricket, you throw stats at me... you make me read your articles... The least you could have done was talk to me?"
"You think it's easy being in love with your best mate? Every time we talked, it felt I would break down then and there. I love you Yash. I don't think I could ever get over that. But you never reciprocated that. I had no choice. It was either getting rid of you, or facing you and shattering my heart a little more. Every day."
The cops came in to take Malhar away. Nothing felt right. The room was dead silent. It was a bolt from the blue. As Malhar obediently accompanied the cops, handcuffed, he looked back one last time, his eyes, a dispirited shade of red. But still a smile on his face. Yash tried to say something, but his throat and eyes had dried up now. The editorial team of Adrika, Bhoomika, Isha, Krittika, Parth, and Shikha, everyone aggrieved. A team stocked with words, couldn't put them together at the moment. Time stood still as Malhar walked away, a moment that would be engraved in our memories forever.
A shocking article that dumbfounded the entire college was out the very next day. The editorial team had yet again, delivered astonishing results and this time perhaps, one of their best pieces. When the students came back, they felt a sense of security that the assaulter had been found. As for the edi team? College wouldn't ever be the same.
– DJ LIT EDITORIAL 19/20
(Adrika, Isha, Krittika, Bhoomika, Shikha, Parth)