Author's note #1 : Violence, dark themes ahead.
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June 16, 1995

"This old man, he played one. He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddywhack give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home."

"Shh..." the voice beside him hissed. The little boy stared up at his grandfather who eventually turned his gaze towards him. The frown on his forehead seemed to accentuate the crows feet on the edges of his eyes, making him look older than he normally did. There was a dull lustre within the gaze, the boy noticed. He'd heard his grandmother say that it was an old man's disease and that it meant grandpa was going blind. Even as he watched, the crows feet receded as a smile appeared across his gravelled face.

"Sorry, Grandpa."
"It's okay, my child."
"Grandpa. Why are we here ? I wanna go home. Grandma said she had a surprise for me."
"Indeed she does, champ. And don't worry. We'll get back soon enough. It's almost sundown. I just thought we could spend some time together."
"But there are so many moshitos here. Let's go home, Paw."
"It's mosquitoes. God. What do they teach you in that city school of yours ?"

The child kept quiet. He could sense the anger building up in his grandfather's voice again. And he didn't want to make Paw angry. Paw was his friend and he wanted Paw to like him. Paw wasn't like dad who hit him and Ma when he came home angry. He knew that Paw and daddy hated each other, though he couldn't understand why. He remembered his father calling Paw a village idiot and cursing ever becoming a part of his family as he beat mom and him. He turned back to the old man lying in the grass on his tummy and almost smiled. Seeing Paw like that reminded him of how their pet dog back home slept under the fan during the hot Miami summers.
"Paw ?"
"Hmm.."
"When is daddy and mummy coming to take me back home ?"


The old man's gaze never left the rocky road that cut through the forests through back to the main road. You'd never see such makeshift pathways in the city, he mused. Covered on either side by wild grass as tall as the child beside him and weeds that could snag a wildcat without harming their parasitic roots, the woods stretched for miles on end but was usually desolate, save for the odd late worker or idiot kids who thought it was the best place to take their girlfriends out for making out. It was a long unwinding road and the old man remembered the days when he could see the end of the forests as they met the setting sun. Those days were long gone.
He turned to the boy again.
"What happened at the ground two Sundays ago?"

He saw the boy's face change immediately. He looked down at the grass and fixed his gaze on a cricket that seemed to accept the staring contest. The old man felt his heart give way and almost considered stopping right there and just hugging the boy.
"Grandma said you came home crying."
"I.. I fell."
The old man felt his eyes water. How many times had he heard his daughter utter these same words when he would inquire about the marks on her face and wrists ? He had always suspected there were similar marks elsewhere but never asked her, lest his fears be confirmed.


"Don't lie to me." his voice was suddenly cold and devoid of emotion. The boy looked up and the old man saw fear in his eyes.
"He made me promise I wouldn't tell."
"Who ?"
"Tom Hassett."
"He's twice your age. What were you doing with him ?"
"Nothing. I was just playing with the others when Tom and his friends came to our ground. They started chasing us and..."
"Why ? Why would they chase you ?" The boy looked at him guiltily.
"They wanted to play ball in our ground and me and Jimmy and Nancy and David said no. Tom caught David and lifted him and tore his shirt and then I spit on him. So they chased us..."
"And they caught you."
The boy didn't say a word.
"What did they do to you ?" The boy simply shook his head. Jeremiah watched as his cheeks reddened. But still not a single tear left the boy's cheek. Even at ten years old, he was showing the inner strength that he had inherited from his mother. That inner mental strength had been her armour, but had also destroyed her life, Jeremiah knew.

"Your grandma says that you really liked that new cartoon of the lions ?"
The boy looked up and again Jeremiah was amazed at the transformation. In a fraction of a second, the child had put away the horror and was actually grinning at him.
"Grandpa, did you watch it ? It is super. I mean really super."
"Yes, I heard. I saw it last night after you slept. It was really nice. I loved that pig and the rat."
"It wasn't a rat. It was a meerkat. You don't see them here."
"But they were so funny. And that monkey with the face paint.."
"What did you think of the death of the lion's father ?"

The corners of his young lips tightened. "I don't like that bit. I just forward that part in the VCR."
"Really ? But that's the most important part."
"No, it's not grandpa. The part where he defeats the bad lion and.."
"Forget it. Now tell me, did you like the songs ?" He watched the boy nod and stare at him expectantly. This was all the child really wanted. Someone who would talk to him and treat him for what he was - just another ten year old boy.

"Did you understand the concept of the circle of life ?" Again, the boy nodded.
"Good. What begins must end. Every creature on Earth has a beginning and an ending. You, me, your dad and mom, all the animals in the zoo, the insects out here..."
"Even Grandma ?"
"I'm not really sure about that. She was atleast 600 years old when I married her and she's still going strong. Anyway, there is a certain balance to the universe created by this circle of life. It prevents having too many people on the planet at the same time. It's like God's oven timer, helping make sure he doesn't over-bake his creations."
"God bakes ?"
"Not very well. The point is there is a symmetry in the universe among all these creatures. You see, they live to continue the next generation. Everything you see an animal do leads towards that one goal. The spider doesn't trap the fly in it's web because of an age old enmity. The tiger doesn't hunt the deer because the deer stole his walkman. He does it because he needs the nourishment. He does it to survive."

Jeremiah's eyes turned back towards the forest. He thought he had spotted movement in the fading light. He saw what he was looking for and looked at his watch. Darkness would fall shortly. He carried on talking to the boy as he opened the plastic bag he had brought with him.
"There is only one exception to this rule in the entire universe. Do you know what it is ?"
The boy shook his head again. He watched his grandpa take out small pieces of metal and squint as he looked at them more closely.
"Man."

The boy watched enamoured as he started to fix one metallic part onto the next piece beside it.
"Man." Jeremiah repeated. 
"Your science books will teach you that we are number one because we have opposable thumbs and all that nonsense... that it is what makes us different from animals. But they are wrong. Man differs because he lies. He differs because he hurts simply because he can.. not because he needs to, but because he can. He kills for fun, he kills for gold and he kills for love. This is where we differ from every other animal in the world."

"But... but it's wrong. How does that make us better ?"
"I said that too. And not just me. Many others before me. Greater men, wiser men. Martin Luther King, Gandhi... even our Lord Jesus. Their pleas for love and unity for one's fellow man touched the hearts of all for some time and some for all time. But one thing remained constant. Their voices were silenced by the same men they tried to love. Men who would never hesitate to pick up the knife just because they do not share the love you have for mankind. Men who enjoy violence for the sake of power alone."

The old man felt his wrist strain as he tightened the final piece of the metallic jigsaw puzzle in his arms. He felt his shoulders slacken as the weight of what he was doing finally bore down heavily on him.
"A long time ago, when your mom was your age, I made her swear never to hurt a fellow being. I wanted her to follow the path of non-violence. To rise above the grime and shine like the angel I knew she was. I wanted her to be an example for everyone of what a good person should be. I wanted her to make me proud." He could feel his voice repeatedly break as the tears started pouring down finally.
 
"Grandpa. Aren't you proud of mommy ?"
The old man felt the tears roll down his cheek and without even realising it, his tongue flicked out to greet the arriving tear. "I was wrong. I had it all wrong. It didn't matter that she was good. Her being good didn't matter at all in the end. She found evil. Or evil found her. Either way, she stuck to the promise she gave me and she tried to defeat evil with love. But it isn't a film, boy. It isn't a film. You don't win. She lost. She lost and everything I taught her and she taught you was all wrong."

He knew the boy was crying too, lying on the grass beside him. He knew the boy understood what he was being told.
"It is only in films that the lion cub survives the stampede and returns to become the king of lions. In real life, we are bound by the rules of our kind. Just as a leopard won't change his spots, man cannot change what is within his heart."

He watched as the last rays of sunlight started to descend across the forest, draping long shadows around the woods who wore them proudly every evening. He wiped the tears from his eyes and pointed at the blurry figure making it's way through the forest. The boy followed his bony finger and his gaze fixed on the gangly youth. A frown appeared on his young forehead.
"What did Tom Hassett do to you ?" Jeremiah repeated.
He watched as the boy shook his head again silently. This time though, it was different. There was a new energy within those eyes. A new emotion he had not seen before in those eyes. An emotion he had hoped to see.
 Hate. Absolute hate.

Jeremiah handed over the gun to the ten year old child beside him. In another lifetime, he had himself been a weapon of the mob. When he had become a father, he had returned back to his village, determined never to let the hatred that had engulfed his teenage years reach a new generation. He had sheltered his daughter from the monsters. And yet, she had paid for the sins of her father with a life full of brutality and suffering.

A life that had finally ended the previous night. 'An accidental fall down the stairs'  Jeremiah had been informed almost sneeringly by her husband, his son-in-law. He had not even felt it necessary to pretend he was suffering as he told him he would not be taking the boy back. 

He had failed his daughter. He would not make that mistake again. The child beside him held the gun in his hand but his gaze never wavered from the approaching figure. 
"Tom Hassett started punching you..." He watched the boy's jaw clench.
"His friends told him to stop but he wouldn't. He forced you to undress in the field." The boy's right index finger moved away from the others and moved above, placing itself on the trigger."
"He tied you by your legs upside down on a tree. And then he hit you with a stick he found nearby. Again. And again. And again."
The boy slowly raised his hands. Almost as if by instinct, the old man's hand took the child's left hand and clasped it around the handle as well to give it more stability.

"He left you there, threatening your friends not to bring you down. Your friend, Nancy, finally let you go after sunset four hours later." Hard as it had been for Jeremiah to hear about this for the first time at the local pub a few nights ago, it had been the tears of the man from whom he had heard it that had finally broken him. Nancy’s father.

Nancy had been violated and hung from the same tree that she had freed her friend a week earlier. Noone dared touch the Hassetts without bringing bloodshed upon their own kind. The local police had refused to even file a case, calling it a prank gone wrong, her father had wailed that night in the pub.

"She was found dead two nights ago." he growled, his voice less than human for the first time in years. Jeremiah watched as the boy stood up for the first time. Tom yelped back for a brief moment at the unexpected intrusion in the darkness.
“She was raped and killed by Tom Hassett for saving your life !!” Jeremiah screamed with all the rage he had kept pent up in his chest the last forty eight hours. He heard the loud bang of a gun echo in the forest.

He rose slowly as he heard the thud of the body fall to the ground. "Forgive me, my daughter." he whispered silently. The boy beside him stared at the lifeless body just metres away from him, then turned to his grandfather, unsure what to do next.
 As they dragged the body back into the thick forests, Jeremiah's eyes kept turning back to the boy who was helping him. In the dark of the night, obscured by his the shadows of the trees and his own diminishing vision, Jeremiah couldn't be sure but he thought he saw a smile play across the boy's face. He blinked again and the smile was gone, replaced by an even more disquietening serenity.

After they were done, they turned and walked down the same path Tom Hassett used to take every evening to get back to the main village.
"Grandpa ?"
"Hmm..."
"We have to get back home fast. Grandma promised me a surprise. I don't want her to be angry."
"What are you worried about ? Your grandma will be there when you get there. She's been there since before Jesus walked the Earth."
"Really ?"
"Uh-huh."
"Cool." Jeremiah watched as the child hummed in the darkness, skipping down the uneven pathway. Even though he couldn't hear the words, he knew the tune well. 

"With a knick-knack paddywhack give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home."

He smiled as he recalled a word from an article he had read a long time ago. 
Atavism. The reappearance of a characteristic after skipping a generation.
The child's mother had been an angel at heart... and she was forever destined to be one now. But the boy would be what his grandfather had been a lifetime ago before he had so futilely tried to turn good. He looked down at his watch. By now, Grandma would have finished packing their things. They would need to leave before the discovery of Tom Hassett was made. It gave them an advantage of twelve hours at best. Jeremiah and his wife had discussed many options the previous night over where to start a new life with their grandchild. They had finally settled on a city as diametrically opposite from the village as possible. 

Jeremiah smiled at the irony of the circle of life. He had returned back to the village nearly four decades ago to escape from who he had become. Tonight, he was leaving his origins behind to go back to the city where, decades ago, he had helped his wife flee from her own origins. A city with it's own blood-stained ambiguous morality, which would aid Jeremiah in teaching the boy the one thing he had failed to teach his daughter – to survive.

A city called Amberville.


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Authors note #2 : 
This is of course, an Amberville Origin Story. For those who are scratching their heads, let me explain. Over the years, we've had five stories in the Amberville series.

1. 2008 - Amberville ( later published online here and, statistically, the most read story of the site. ) 
2. 2009 - Payback ( later published online here. )
3. 2010 - Guardian Angel
4. 2011 - Murders at the hospital - by Dr Rohan Mathew ( a Blogadda Tangy Tuesday Winner )    
5. 2012 - The Dark Side - by Dr Rohan Mathew

It felt like the right time to go back and unearth the roots of the original story's protagonist and see what forks in the road may have led him from a timid young boy yearning for his parents love to his eventual destiny, while also exploring the more spiritual theme of how we, like the child's grandfather, are all eventually bound by the circle of life. 
Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Do share your opinions below.   
      

34 Comments

Rohan said…
Goose bumps!!! It is an awesome concept!
And thanks for putting my links. . :-)
jaish_vats said…
Wow!! That was an awesome story...Kept me hooked till the end and the writing style was very professional...
Danny Simon said…
HEy Radha! Well written buddy! The author is back! ;)You ought to really consider the movies! Script writer!
Dr Roshan said…
Thanks dude... only natural your blogposts get added to the Amberville mythology :)
Dr Roshan said…
Thanks Jaish. Wanted a slow build up even if meant a longer story. Gave more options for exploring the mental aspects that influence the two main characters.
Dr Roshan said…
Thanks Danny. It's been awhile since I had done fiction. And a couple of years since I did an Amberville myself.
As for the movies, damn !! Script writer only ? Doesnt Hollywood or Bollywood need handsome, 'well built- well nourished' heroes too ?? ! :D
Alka Gurha said…
Well defined and engrossing..Ahh...the eternal circle of life.
maithili said…
Awesome awesome work! The best I have come across on any blog so far.. Yes really that engrossing.
Nirvana said…
Awesome. Period.
Dr Roshan said…
Thanks so much Alka.. glad you liked the concept.
Dr Roshan said…
Now that really made my day.. thanks a million.
Dr Roshan said…
Glad you liked it :)
umashankar said…
Intense and beautiful! Almost surrealistic in places . Loved it all the way.
Danny Simon said…
Lol... u may wanna redefine that!
Dr Roshan said…
Just you wait.. once I get into my Spiderman costume, there's no turning back. :)

P.S. The major movie graphics would be needed to delete the belly and butt, I guess :D
Dr Roshan said…
Thank you. Wanted to express quite a few themes within a short story. Hopefully succeeded.
TTT said…
wow that was awesome !!! Kept me hooked till the end ...
Dr Roshan said…
:) The worry was that people would get bored reading a long 'short story'.
It was like reading Jeffrey Archer short story ! AWweeesome !
Haddock said…
An interesting and good read.
The relationship between the grandfather and grandson stands out.
Dr Roshan said…
Thank you.. I wanted to focus on it in particular rather than the act of violence itself..
Nisha said…
I loved the way you have written the story.It's gripping. But I don't like what we take away from it. By making the grandson kill Tom, Jeremiah possibly gave birth to someone like his son-in-law who was violent in nature. I can't think of a possible ending right now, but I wouldn't go to this extreme.
Then again, it's me, shy of giving an eye for an eye.

Take it as constructive criticism :)
Dr Roshan said…
Oh, I totally get what you are saying, but thats the point I'm aiming for.. This isn't a tale meant for a happy ending.
The boy does infact grow up with a skewed sense of right and wrong ( if you read the initial Amberville stories ). This is just a look back at where he took a turn away from who he was to what he becomes eventually.
From a broader point of view, I also wanted to show that there comes a time when everyone crumbles/gives up their beliefs and succumbs to the call for revenge against those who have harmed them.
Nikki said…
Your blog has some great posts, I love it! This story is very haunting. I love the relationship of the grandfather and grandson and though I dislike the ending because I'm a lover of a happy endings I understand why that had to be the ending to get the theme of the story across. Great story!
Dr Roshan said…
Thanks Nikki. I too personally wanted to emphasize the relationship between the two more than the act itself being committed. I know the ending's not 'right'... but it's necessary for the story.
Meety said…
Awesome read for a Friday break... :-) refreshing and captivating..
Dr Roshan said…
Thanks Meety.. 'captivating' I certainly hope so. Doubt if it was 'refreshing' :) Wanted a darker theme for a change away from chocolatey posts.
Anonymous said…
I loved it.... it's always great to read a good story. A good short story is even better.
Dr Roshan said…
Thanks... glad you enjoyed it.
Meety said…
Well.. captivating for me.. and refreshing.. as it was indeed different from your usual chocolatey posts :D
Dr Roshan said…
In that case, mission accomplished ! :)
Sunitha said…
Wow ... Loved it so much that I read all of your Amberville series in one strech.. But I think I still like Origins more than any of the others..Also , Is there a hint in this story as to who this child grew up to become?
Dr Roshan said…
Sunitha, I personally liked Amberville above this because it was my first story in this mould.
But yes, I really do love this story over the others. While writing this story - I realised I had a lot of relevant themes that I wanted to fill in such a small story - the first draft was a good 700 words longer.

As for hints/easter eggs, well the only one I could think of that I put intentionally was the kid's love for his mother - in 'Payback', he does remember her words fondly and remember it as gospel.
Was there any particular reason you asked about hints in the story ?