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Forest of the Dark - Chapter Three

Chapter Three

From the very beginning, Dhiraj was used to a strict regime set by his authoritarian parents. He was to wake up at five in the morning and made to take a lap around the whole garden ten times, after which his Father would make him do cardio exercises for half an hour followed by a healthy breakfast of fruits and milk. Only then, he would be sent off to school.

In the weekends his parents would take him to a multi-sport club, where he would be exposed to various games. His parents were both tennis players and wished for their son to master any that would take him to the world championships.

Dhiraj never knew if he ever wanted to be someone else. He tried tennis, hoping he would be a natural at it like his parents, but somehow his skills felt lacking. He tried football and basketball, but nothing drew his interest until one day he played badminton in school. He took an instant liking to it and when he told his parents they seemed a tad disappointed but also relieved that he had finally picked something.

Dhiraj practiced every day in the evenings after his studies. His parents didn’t seem to mind that he brought only average marks in his tests and exams; all they wanted for him was to be a sportsman. He went on to win school tournaments and then club tournaments. He was finally selected for the national team—a day Dhiraj thought would never come.

His coach made his train every day and Dhiraj defeated his opponents effortlessly. Then a week ago, while performing a serve, he twisted his wrist. He had ignored the pain at the time; he had been so close to winning. But later, after the adrenaline rush of victory had waned, he had been in unbearable agony.

The doctors advised him complete rest after informing him that he had severely sprained his wrist. Dhiraj was in dire pain, but he hid it well from his parents by continuing to perform his usual training activities. Then yesterday, the doctor told him what he had feared- he had torn a ligament in his wrist and would be unable to play for the championships.

Dhiraj tried to persuade the doctor to do something about it and administer some medicines, but the doctor had refused and advised him to put no more pressure on the hand or else it would cause further injury, which could require surgery.

Replacing his wrist band, Dhiraj had left the doctor’s office feeling dejected. Not only would his career suffer but his parents would be so disappointed in him. They had persevered with him and he had nothing to fall back on. His grade reports in college were dismal and he had never wanted to work in a cubicle anyway.

It was over.

Aksh’s message couldn’t have come at a better moment. He told them about the get together and Dhiraj decided that before he would tell his parents, he would spend one weekend, enjoying the few moments of his life, before he decided to deal with his problems.

He had been leaving the club when he had run into Sumit—his opponent. His injury was no secret to him and much to his chagrin, Sumit began taunting him, reminding him that his position in the team was replaceable and he was next in line to claim it.

Dhiraj wanted to ignore him; he really did try to, but when Sumit kept prodding him something inside him snapped and he punched the bully hard on his face. Sumit suffered a broken nose and needed stitches on his upper lip.

Assault charges had been pressed and he had to call his family lawyer for help. Mr. Mathur was asked to be discreet and not reveal this to Dhiraj’s parents. Mr. Mathur complied and Dhiraj was released on bail. This was yet another secret he would have to keep from his parents.

His wrist hurt as did his pride, but nothing hurt worse than the thought of his career going down the drain. As he left the police station, Sumit taunted him some more. He was one hell of a relentless bastard, he thought abysmally.

When he met his friends, he pushed away every one of his troubled thoughts and greeted them with the same friendliness they were accustomed to. It didn’t take him long to notice how withdrawn each of them looked. Upon Maya’s insistence, they had decided to not discuss their problems this weekend, but looking at his friend, Dhiraj wondered what Aksh was hiding in the first place.

They hadn’t talked about the incident at the hospital and Dhiraj wasn’t sure he wanted to bring it up. He had just gone there to get his wrist checked on. He hadn’t expected to see what he had and encouraged himself not to let his thoughts run amok especially when he didn’t know the whole story.

Nevertheless, he promised himself to enjoy the weekend. Preeti thought he was listening to music; he wasn’t. He was listening to a meditation tape that helped his relax before his matches. Right now he needed it more than ever considering the bubbling anger inside him.

He hated his injury, he loathed Sumit and he despised his luck. He had been immersed in his gloomy thoughts when the car had screeched to a halt and he had heard Aksh’s voice interrupt his tape. Pulling out the headphones, he heard Aksh scream at the old man.

After that bizarre encounter, he found himself relax a bit as his friends returned to their normal selves by talking about the horror stories of Darkwood Road. He had a few to share too.

Then suddenly Aksh turned moody again and before he knew it, Preeti was screaming.

“Look out Aksh!”

There was a strange blinding white light that enveloped him. He covered his eyes with his hands and then all of a sudden, the air around him started to get thicker. He pushed against the side door, dimly aware that the car had stopped.

He heard someone cry out and before he could reach out to his friends, the door had opened and he fell out. The smoke dissipated and he crawled blindly to the side of the road, gasping for breath. His lungs seemed to be full of smoke and he coughed hard.

After a few moments, when his breathing became easier, he looked up to see that he was leaning against the tree and that the car had gone.

“Hey!” he called. Using the tree trunk for support, he staggered to his feet and coughed again.

“Guys? Where are you?”

Had they left him?

“Hey! Aksh! Rudra!” He coughed again. “Preeti? Maya! Where are you all?”

He turned around to see an empty road on one side and the dense woods on the other. He saw someone running behind a tree and raised his hand.

“Who’s there? Hey!” he called, but received no response. He ran into the woods, seeing the figure duck under a branch as he ran. “Aksh?”

The figure clearly belonged to a man he determined. He ran behind him as fast as his legs could carry him, keeping his eye on the flitting figure, hidden behind a veil of fog.

“Stop!” Dhiraj called. He grabbed a tree branch and panted for breath. He had run faster and run miles ever since he was a kid, but tonight it was as if the energy had been zapped away from him. He started to feel dizzy as he tried to catch his breath.

The fog was making it impossible for him to breathe. He saw the dark figure make a jump and then disappear behind some undergrowth.

He was about to chase after him, when he heard a loud click behind him. His feet froze as he felt a twig snap. Then cool metal pressed against the back of his neck.

“Make one move and I’ll kill you,” A hoarse voice whispered.

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