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Eden Sank to Grief

“My soul will abhor you,”
(Leviticus 26:11)

He was trying to hammer a foraged stick into the parched ground to mark the acolyte's grave, but it snapped in half. Behind him, the sea dashed itself against the rocks, as though it were looking for a fight.

Wearily, he let go of the rock he was pounding the stones with, and stood up. Bowing his head, he began to pray. The errant spray from the waves caused a fit of trembling that undid all his careful eulogies. His acolyte would go unheralded into the black.

The burning sun dried the salty damp soon enough and he imagined he steamed for just a few moments. Looking out across the heaving, hue-less expanse of water, he saw misted columns rising in the distance, like tendrils winding down from the clouds to the ocean. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Dragging his broken feet, the priest walked away from the spot where his acolyte had fallen. His feet had gone numb a long time ago and a part of him was terrified of taking off his ragged boots. He didn't want to know what he'd done to himself, trekking across the spoiled flats, any more than he wanted to feel for his acolyte. Giving in to even the slightest human weakness would cripple him.

The sea was at his back and in front of him stretched a vast desolate patchwork plain, pocked by areas of gray that he knew he would have to avoid. And in the distance was a cityscape raising its many tiered heads into the sky.

“So this is my desert…”

“I will make your heaven as iron and your earth as brass,” (Leviticus 26:19)

The sun, like the song had said, had the heave and the hue of a woman on fire. Dragging his feet one step after another, the priest saw imagined demons all around, trailing him.

For him, this endless blasted plain, with its broken rocks jutting out of the ground like the very bones of the earth, signified futility, with its murky truths. Even the fact that this place's name was now forgotten spoke of how understanding failed when it came to naming glaring truths. Because there wasn't any name you could attach to such aching suffering that would do it justice.

But he dragged his feet forward and the misted mirage of the city slowly grew in stature. As the city slowly came to focus, he felt himself standing straighter on his broken feet.

The penitent stands taller at his moment of punishment.

“I will lay your cities waste,”
(Leviticus 26:31)

His vision was coloured red at the edges. The iron fist of insanity swiped at his mind and caught hold. The grip tightened, rough fingers squeezing his head until his brain became aware of the discomforting confinement, and burst forth like a bird breaking its cage. Like at the dawn of the first sun, the dark delusions faded. His path was clear.

The people of the city had been awed to see him walk out of the ruined lands. They called him a broken messiah. The crimson outline that framed everything was slowly seeping in, colouring his impressions into deep, point-focused intensity. Now the people were a crowd around him.

He wanted to scream out, tell them everything, but he almost choked when he tried. His body protested violently, holding on to his silence with claws. With a supreme effort, one that nearly broke him, in a quavering shrill voice he uttered out his damnation.

“I deserve to be punished!”

But it was enough, the people heard. The city street he was on had been desolate to begin with but the zealot's fervour he had instilled in the people had spilled out. They had taken to ruination, destroying all the useless wealth around them.

“I have sinned! I have seen the broken walls of my church! I deserve punishment!”

The deep red welts like open wounds were festering, making him blink more and more. Abruptly, for just one instant; his benumbed feet came back to life. And he screamed out in pain. And the crowd added their dirges to his.

The penitent screams in vain.

“In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti,”
(Matthew 28:19)

His ragged vestment, his broken feet, his very body was tinder. And the tumultuous storm that sparked behind his brow had blinded him, he only saw red. His hoarse failing voice, the screams of the people, they were all one now, in the red of his eyes.

And then, he set fire to his world.

The last act of the penitent.

By Tareq Adnan
Debts of Inspiration: Stephen R Donaldson, Robert Frost (The title has been taken from one of his poems).

Cockroach Man

When the boy was younger, his mother used to tell him stories of, well, many things. But the only stories he'd remember for the rest of his life would be those of the phoenix that rises out of its own ashes, of the Greek God Prometheus who had brought fire to mortals, of the Kryptonian hero Superman and of the battle of Troy (mainly because Helen fascinated him in his early teens).

Suddenly standing in front of quite a crowd, inquisitive, astonished, horror with disbelief etched on their faces along with sarcasm and unuttered hilarity (mind, even the smallest of gatherings becomes a huge crowd if adorned with such adjectives) and a flicker of hope, the boy remembered each of the stories his mother used to tell him under the sky which had by then begun to turn red. Nuclear warfare had torn into the lives of general people. Even a nation as peaceful as theirs didn't escape from the wrath of the fusion of the angry Predetorium-343, the newly discovered and aptly named radioactive, despite maintaining a perfectly cooperative and modest foreign policy. The destructive power of the nuclear bombs was so huge that the ripple of radiation spread far and wide. People were dying, mutilated. The boy hadn't died, yet. He was lucky enough to come in contact with one Doctor Levarda who promised to save him from his doom. He only had to become her assistant and take part in some experiment involving cockroaches. Easy. He followed the Doctor everywhere and he was here.

Human genome sequence prophesied a great future. But none had succeeded to effectively change the DNA for the better. Doctor Levarda achieved the miracle. She successfully integrated cockroach DNA with her own, as a cure to radiation. She was the first lab rat herself. But it had not been fool-proof. She had grown three more pairs of legs and a pair of antenna, and an outstanding ability to survive the male restroom, not many could do that. But this inhuman transformation didn't bother the boy a bit. He was ready to do anything, to live, to escape radiation.

The Change
“I'd like a pair of wings, Doctor, if the fusion indeed changes my physique,” the boy said to the doctor while he was being bound to the machine. He was not too hopeful about retaining his fantastic looks, which had failed to attract any one of the opposite gender so far.

“Uh-huh, whatever you want,” the Doctor replied absent-mindedly.

“And a red costume with a big C on the chest, a red cape and an, er, overwear, while you are at it, please,” he added slyly.

“Now, why do you want those? A present? A memento?” Levarda asked forgetting herself and the audience.

“Well, you know, they will really give me the 'superhero' feeling, like...you know...men in tights flying through air and fighting villains to protect their girlfriend...” his voice trailed off.

Levarda rolled her eyes and gave the boy a tap on his head. He shivered. A tap felt more like a poke in the hands of an oversized cockroach. He secretly prayed that he didn't grow such arms.

It seemed that Levarda really redid her research. The boy didn't grow any unwanted accessories. He was the plain old, insignificant, unattractive Boy, except his skin turned a deep shade of reddish brown and his eyes were extra sensitive. And unknown to him, he had developed the ability to resist radiation. How fitting. His back sometimes prickled, but growing a pair of wings was still a matter of time. He would grow them in a few years, the Doctor had confirmed, but only if he had the desire to grow. Evolution has always been in the palm of human hand, but the will to change remains allusive to many.

The Future
Remember Prometheus? Levarda had given the two-legged, radiation-affected human the fire of DNA integration. Remember Superman? Cockroach-men will fly around, saving their girlfriends from villains, who were in turn bad cockroach men. Remember the phoenix? Mankind will again rise from the ashes of the civilisation their previous generations had bestowed upon them.

The boy will be remembered by the newly forming civilisation on the earth as the first one to undergo successful genetic makeup, first one to actually fly around with a silly costume and the first one to marry a giant cockroach.

By Jawad and Ero Senin
Illustration: Sarwat Yunus

There and Back Again

Herbert Williampshire a.k.a Willy paced unmindfully in the spacious waiting area of the World Evacuation Office, Geneva. As he waited to meet a weird-named lady who is supposedly his new boss, he could not help but notice the interior of the office. With a huge workforce of three thousand men, it was the biggest institution in the world, now that the oil crisis had turned China Mobil into a thing of the past.

"Sir, you may go in now", the secretary squeaked as a charade of men walked out of her room.

"So, I hear you are the alien from E007,” a lady in her late forties piffled at him just as he went in. "The man who stayed six months in E007 in a small facility with only food cubes and some nerds to accompany him. NASA is proud of you", she continued.

He stared at the lady with distaste in his eyes.

"I have called you here to ask you to stop chattering on the radio about your 'no one will survive in E007' story," she went on as she prepared a cup of coffee. "You see, NASA was the one experimenting in E007, you were just an object they used. Don't you think that it is wrong for you to say that we will not survive in E007 with nothing but your word to back you up?"

"I have my right to say the truth", he started. "NASA has only done a physical probability test in E007 due to shortage of time; no psychological tests were done".

"But our team came back alright, didn't they all come back without turning into mind freaks?" she interjected.

"Yes they did, but we stayed there only for six months, all the other probability tests in E007 were carried out with dumb robots. And even then, the team that went there were a selected few who had extensive training. Your common citizen will not be able to survive the closed and damp conditions for decades on end in the three hundred hectare facility you are building. A look at any jail in the country will tell you what happens when you do that." he put in.

"Listen young man, NASA scientists understand better than you whether people will survive in E007 or not. I do not have time to listen to your story again. Just keep in mind that I do not want you to go around freaking everybody out. This is the only chance we have, alright? And we are going to make use of it and live in E007, unless of course, you have a liking for cockroaches. Just keep your mouth shut; I know what I am doing", she rumbled.

"And yes, finish your coffee before you leave please", she said, as his insides churned to throw the cup at her; the previous CEO was a lot better.

By Eshpelin Mishtak
Title taken from Lord of the Rings.



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