Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Haunting by Shameen Irfan

 “It’s inevitable now,” I told myself as I stepped out of the military bus. I was delighted by the crunching sound my feet made when I took each step on the snow covered ground of my home country, though, I was still afraid. This time I was not here to spend quality time with my family or friends but I was here to protect them and the rest of my countrymen. The straight postured men standing by my side; neatly dressed in their khaki uniform and holding tightly onto their AK-47s,had the same objective.

   Even though, I was mentally and physically prepared, I was unaware of what could happen. I wondered whether I would survive to see my countrymen celebrate victory against the Russians.

My thought process was interrupted by a loud, horrifying sound which was perhaps, a sign of Russian attack that had, indeed, triggered the war. I was surprised at how, over the centuries, technology has developed to such an extent that from sticks and stones: bows and arrows, weapons have taken the shape of handguns, bombs and missiles, etc. but I could not waste time being a coward. I got into my position as I saw panic-stricken soldiers do the same.

   Smoke filled up around me as everything darkened making it seem like the sun was non-existent. The only thing I could see clearly was the snow under my feet which was gradually turning as red as saffron. Besides that, the only thing I could hear was the patterned clicking of guns and the footsteps of soldiers struggling to protect themselves from being crushed under the large military tanks of the Russians. I could see the city being destroyed as easily as a toddler would tear apart the pages of a book. Black clouds travelled across the sky; glowing fires consumed everything with no remorse; death and destruction came from above. In the blink of an eye, the tall, magnificently constructed skyscrapers collapsed and I took as much pain as possible, to protect my fellow soldiers, along with capturing some of the Russians. I shot whoever came in my way and then dragged them, through corpses, towards the place where the rest of the prisoners were held captive. In my struggle to do so, I suddenly saw a familiar face. He looked deep into my eyes as if he had found someone he had been looking for, since a long time. I took advantage of his condition and shot his foot with my gun after which I did what I was supposed to.

 The chaos and panic did not give me a chance to think about who he was and where I had seen him before since we had strict orders to ensure that the prisoners do not escape and were given the authority to treat them as we felt like. Terror and grief was slowly taking over me as I was traumatized by everything I had witnessed, from the corpses laying all around me to the buildings tumbling down in front of me. I started to realize I would not be able to bare it for too long now and the man constantly gazing at me, added to my agitation. I loaded my pistol and was all set to shoot him until it occurred to me.

  Flashbacks of the two years I spent with this man came to me. As I placed my finger on the trigger, a dull picture of him holding me in his arms, was created in my mind. I looked at his wrist and then mine, noticing he wore the same black bracelet that I did. Memories ran back and forth through my head which began to hurt to an extent that it had become unbearable just like my actions had become uncontrollable. I knew, for a fact, that everyone had a breaking point; weak or strong; courageous or cowardly-war frightened everyone witless and I could strongly feel that my 'breaking point' had come as I slowly pulled the trigger. His shrill cries of pain hurt my ears just like the howling of a wolf does. Within this landscape of horror, he collapsed.

  I fell to the bloody ground as I realized what I had done and remembered my mother's words,"He was taken away by Russian officials and I do not know when he will be returned to us." She had waited for my father for too long, quite unaware of what had happened to him and whether he was still alive or not. After having to deal with so much, my mother passed away leaving behind just a few photographs of my father. My mother was the only connection between us but I had killed the man who had, perhaps, been looking for me for years. I killed the man who was supposed to answer the numerous questions that were in my mind. I killed my father.

  A surge of severe guilt and pain rushed through me. I knew I would not be able to see the clear, blue skies anymore as the light became too bright for my eyes and the air, too rough for my burnt skin. It seemed like the world was falling apart as I slowly closed my eyes, lying next to my dead father. I was alive, yet, mentally dead. I could feel that I was being dragged away but had no clue, of where I was being taken and had no energy to open my eyes.

  The next time I opened my eyes, I was in a hospital bed with one of my soldier friends sitting next to me. I had lost the ability to speak. The only thing I last remembered, was killing my father. It was hard to resist the urge to somehow kill myself, either by stabbing my wrist or shooting myself because I trully, deeply and madly wanted to be where my parents were, now. I wanted to apologize to my father for what I had done and all I needed was once chance. I questioned myself as to why I had ever even wanted to be a soldier. I did want to protect my country but not in a manner as uncivilised as this. I supposed, war had ceased, though, I was, unaware of the outcome.

  People came to visit me and from what I heard, I had suffered 'psychological trauma'. Clearly, they were unaware of the fact that I had killed my own father. It made my head jump to think about it. The next few days, I suffered from uncontrollable diarrhea to unrelenting anxiety as I was left wondering how much longer I would survive. Stomach cramps seized me and everytime I closed my eyes, terrifying nightmares about slaughtering not only my father but also, many others, destroyed my sleep. Often, I cracked up and found myself unable to eat, deliriously re-living my experiences of combat.

  Even though, I was sure I could not handle the strain of warfare and no longer wished to return to a battlefield, a small part of me was proud of himself for being courageous enough to step out onto the field and fight the efficient, well-equipped Russians. I wanted to forget those haunted nights and dreams that dripped with murder of my father. I was guilty and glad as my body began to sink into the crisp, white sheets of the bed with my mind and body, finally, succumbing to the inevitability of death.



  1. I LOVE THE CONCEPT!!! Shameen, your auditory imagery is also very successful in creating the right effect "I was delighted by the crunching sound my feet made".
    Mmmm...but I have a few suggestions - "horrifying sound which was perhaps, a sign of Russian attack that had" focus on the usage of the word "perhaps", do you think it creates the right effect?
    Even though it is first-person POV, the subjectivity is largely absent.
    You wrote " Terror and grief was slowly taking over me as I was traumatized" - show, do not takes away from the effect it would have made. Readers like to play detective, so let them decipher from the clues you give.
    Criteria - Is it a complete short story - Yes it is. Can it be classified as The Haunting? Absolutely. Do we see terror and guilt in a balance? Yes we do see terror more or less throughout and guilt is established halfway across the story but the terror subsides. This is a solid 8/10. Good job.

  2. when the narrator shoots his father, his reactions and emotions seem detached. they would not be described any differently if it were a third person narrative which makes it seem emotionally detached. the narrator transitions immediately to grief, there is no disbelief or denial which makes it seem a little unreal. otherwise, description is great.