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The crimson blade

It was a night much darker than usual. The stars had faded long ago and now the moon was barely visible. Dawn wasn't breaking, yet all forms of natural light had been extinguished, by an unseen force or so it seemed. Dimmed perhaps by a force which disliked the prevalence of light, afraid illumination might make itself visible. Khaled remained disenchanted with such astronomical changes, immersed in his thoughts. He played with the blade on his hand, contemplating its presence. The blade was dripping a crimson liquid. Blood, one might have immediately determined. He pondered how the blade had made its way on his bed. He slightly shivered as he pictured the person the blade had marked.

It wasn't the first time that he had witnessed something so damningly strange but they had never taken place within his abode, a place he considered to be the safest place on earth. Once he had seen bloody inscriptions on the window of the bus in which he rode. The window was next to him and he could swear it wasn't there when he had first taken his seat. “Let Death Not Find You”, the words were etched on the window and they were also etched on his mind. Another time while he was talking to a friend, conversing about professional lives, his friend had suddenly acted very strange. He replayed that conversation in his mind now.

“And until you balance everything in your check book, it's a real pain.” Khaled had said. Up until that point, everything was normal but then his friend replied in a hoarse, almost lifeless voice “Life should be balanced but so should death. I fear that it may find you when you least expected it.” Khaled looked at his friend but then the latter spoke about something entirely different, as if he had come out of a trance and had no recollections of the few paranormal seconds. Perhaps he had hallucinated, but Khaled wasn't convinced.

On more than one occasion did Khaled feel that he was being stalked. Especially at nights when he would be walking home, the presence of someone behind him was so overwhelming that the hairs on the back of his neck refused to ease. He would turn back and stare at empty pavements but the emptiness contained an unsaid promise of a second person. Each time he would see a shadow leap out of sight, a second too late but the master of the shadow remained elusive. Ironically, the master of the shadows remained in the shadows. He suspected psychosis, but he couldn't determine its cause, thus ghostly doubts remained embedded on his mind.

When Khaled arrived tonight, the moment he had set his eyes upon his bed, there lay a bloody blade, prominently displayed on top of his pillow. Khaled had first looked at it nervously but now he sat holding it in his hand, gingerly, afraid that perhaps the blood might contaminate him. “Why are you playing these games with me?” He screamed at no one in particular and cursed the elusive power, hell bent on driving him crazy. He looked at the mirror and saw his reflection staring back at him. His reflection imitated his every move and for some reason this irritated him. Then the laws broke, the room illuminated on its own and the face on the mirror, though it was identical to him, suddenly commanded an evil aura. It spoke, without Khaled moving, and it said. “We shan't rest till Death finds you.” Khaled stared at his image in amazement and then his face broke into a sadistic smile. “Death won't find me because I will find it first!” Khaled said triumphantly as a psychotic gleam lit up in his eyes. Those would be his last words since after that he swiftly picked up the blade and slit his wrists, ending all the misery and anxiety then and there. A suicide which many would consider to be pre-mediated, but was it really that?

At his funeral friends commented that Khaled had become a strange person lately, always on the look out for something invisible and hearing things that were never said. Scribbling on surfaces had also been found after Khaled had been near those places. Witnesses said the words were usual related to death or about not letting death find you. When Khaled was lowered on the grave, a few swore that the sun's ray produced a shadow that was not shaped like a man but rather a demon. His mother who found the body also said that when she entered the room, the first thing she saw was a shadow in the distant, on the curtains, of something with horns. Then she saw her son's bleeding wrists and then she saw darkness. No one will ever know what happened to Khaled for all that remains now are his remains and crimson blade, the murderer of many innocent beings.

By Osama “Dark Lord” Rahman

Lost Cause

I didn't expect to see him at school today, and I wasn't surprised when he didn't show up.

It was the day after the Parents-Teachers meeting. The brainier bunch was grinning (having received glowing praises from the teachers) while the rest were just sulking in their seats and cursing nerds and teachers under their breath.

I had done well myself. My teachers were pleased with me, and so were my parents. I can't say the same about him. He was hauled to the principal's office, and his mother was given a long and nasty lecture on raising children properly. She'd left the office close to tears with her son in tow. He couldn't care any less, really. Teachers, and school, really didn't bother him.

So, he didn't show up. I'm sure he donned his school uniform, took his bag, and left home at 7: 30 sharp. He'd promised his mom he wouldn't skip classes anymore, wouldn't fail anymore tests, and would come to school on time.

And the moment he turned the corner, he took the bus to the other end of the town, and spent his lunch money playing video games and refilling his stash of cigarettes.

The teachers noticed that he was gone. They called out his name twice during roll call, and then made a little note (which they sent along to the principal). He missed all eight of his classes, and a lunch break detention, a detention that had been pending since the beginning of the term. He'd always managed to weasel out of it. This time, though, he didn't even bother coming up with a remotely plausible excuse.

I was worried about him, because I felt for his mother. He couldn't care less, but his mother was a nice lady, and she deserved better.

After dismissal I saw him roaming around outside the school gates. He was smoking, too. Once, even the principal passed by him in her gleaming silver car. He threw cigarette stumps at her windshield.

I wanted to turn around and go home, but the memory of his mother in tears was fresh in my mind. I had to say something to him. He was a train wreck waiting to happen, and he needed help. So I marched up to him and said, 'You shouldn't have skipped school today.'

The sneer grew more audacious. 'Really?'

'Really.' In my mind, an insistent voice was shrieking that this one is a lost cause! But I soldiered on.

'You should try to be a better person.'

'You should get the hell out of my sight.' And he flicked his cigarette stump at my face.

I sighed.

He was a lost cause.

By Shehtaz Huq

Book review
The Dragon on the Border

Gordon R. Dickson

The Dragon on the Border is the third book of the Dragon Knight Series. For those of you who have seen Army of Darkness, this is a familiar story, though slightly different. James Eckert, Baron de Bois de Malencontri et Riveroak, is a twentieth century guy who has traveled through parallel universes into fourteenth century England. It is similar to our world in history and time line, only it has magic. Jim and his wife Angie get stuck in this universe and come to like it. So, even though they get a chance to go back to their own world, they decide to stick around. Bad choice mate, fourteenth century England ain't got pizzas. But since he can do magic and turn himself into a dragon, it's not so bad I suppose.

In this book, Jim leaves Angie at his castle - which he won from its previous owner by the subtle method of killing him [the dude was, apparently, evil] - and travels to a fallen friend and knight's castle in Northumberland [which lies to the north of England near the Scottish and English border, if you were wondering]. With him is Sir Brian, a gallant knight, who is also Jim's weapon's tutor, even though Jim is of higher rank; and Dafydd ap Hywel, a longbow man of great skill.

When they do arrive at the castle to give their sympathy to the family of the knight, they find him alive and well. Sir Giles de Mer is of silkie blood which means he turns into a seal when his dead body is released into the sea and his body has been recovered by magic. But they come to know of a dreadful plot in which the Scots are trying to invade England backed by French gold. Their campaign will be spearheaded by the Hollow Men, who are invisible dead people [read ghosts] who wear pieces of clothing and armour and can fight like any normal human. If they are killed, they come alive 48 hours later as long as one their number survives.

Now the goal is pretty simple: using his magic, and a lot of his wit, and help from the de Mer family and a Scot who realizes that the Scots can't win this battle, and the muscle from the Borderers and the Little Men [they are like hobbits in stature but warrior like in nature], he must find a way to prevent the bribe of French gold reaching the Hollow Men and destroy them utterly by force. The only thing that gives him any hope of doing this is the Hollow Men's greed because, even though they aren't completely alive, they have needs of the flesh.

Now all this might seem a little complicated ['no shit, Sherlock,' I hear you say] but it is a pretty simple book. The great dollops of utterly useless knowledge that I've so far tried to force feed you, is served a little better in the book. It gives a really quirky insight into the fourteenth century world from the eyes of a modern man. There is a lot of humour and funny incidents, not least of which taken place when Jim gives first aid to Sir Brian when he gets wounded. The book might seem a little over dramatized, but hey, it's the 1300s, what did you expect? At least it's better than War and Peace and those cliché medieval romance stories.

Bottom line, it's funny, it's interesting, it doesn't make you want to puke from all the corniness, so good book. A piece of advice - if you somehow manage to go back in time, claim that you are nobility. You might regret it when you have to take charge in battles, but it'll save you from drinking the near-poisonous water.

By Kazim Ibn Sadique




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