From Chapter Six of Forest of the Dark
Ever since Aksh was fifteen, he had wanted to be a doctor.
He had a normal childhood and an ideal family. His father was an accountant and his mother a housewife—both doted on their only son.
Aksh was a thin boy and his mother would often fret and fuss over him. He didn’t mind his appearance; what he did care about was his popularity which day by day was declining. Puberty had struck him badly,turning his voice croaky and his face spotted with acne.
None of the girls showed the slightest interest in him and the boys wouldn’t include him in any of the sports teams because of his lacking physique.
Aksh spent most of his teenage years in loneliness, but when he came home, his parents would treat him like the most popular boy in the school and at the end of the day, that was what mattered to him and he slept with a big smile on his face every night.
Everything was going in the usual manner, when a few days after his fifteenth birthday, Aksh’s father had a car accident.
Aksh had been waiting with his mother for his father to arrive when the phone rang. His mother had picked up and as soon as a few words were exchanged, she had turned pale and her voice turned hollow
She had put down the phone with a tremble in her hands and had asked him to put on his shoes and call a taxi. Throughout the trip, he kept asking his mother what the matter was, but her ashen face didn’t belie anything.
She clutched his hands in hers and when the taxi stopped in front of the hospital, Aksh remembered how his heart had sank and how every step inside had felt as if he were walking through a dense swamp.
His mother’s face was impassive as she reached the reception and asked for her husband. They were directed to the ICU and Aksh had almost wailed when he saw his father wrapped in bandages. The only part visible was his face which was spotted with large bruises.
The doctor spoke to his mother who was frozen to the spot, but Aksh couldn’t understand anything. His eyes wouldn’t leave his father and he longed to go forward and embrace his father.
Then a warm hand had touched his shoulder and the doctor had given him a small comforting smile.
“He’s going to make it.”
Aksh had looked up at the doctor’s face and seen worry in his eyes, but his smile and his touch had given him some hope.
The next few days had gone painstakingly slow. His mother would either be glued to the chair outside the ward or sitting by her husband’s side, clutching his hand. Not once did he see his mother shed a tear.
He would wake up in the morning; have his maid give him breakfast, go to school then rush to the hospital once they were let out. There he would watch the doctors taking care of his father, while his mother picked on the sandwiches he brought for her.
One day, while he was distracting his mother from her grief by talking about a test he had aced, the alarm had gone off and the doctors had rushed to the ICU.
His mother had risen slowly, a hand clutched to her heart, while he pressed himself to the glass window.
His Father was trembling violently and two nurses had to hold him down while the doctor injected him. Then there had been a loud stretching beep and Aksh saw the doctor tense.
Standing on his tiptoes, he saw the doctor do everything he could to revive his father and, when the nurse stepped away, he caught a glimpse of him lying absolutely still Aksh had felt his legs lose their strength and he staggered back. Behind him, his mother let out a moan, but Aksh kept staring at his father’schest.
The doctor was doing something, but Aksh could only see his father’s chest laying still, and then he had seen a small movement.
It was gradual, but his father’s chest started to heave and Aksh stepped back, relief washing over him. The doctor came out, informed them that the patient had suffered a setback but was doing fine now.
Aksh tore his eyes from his father and looked up at the man who had saved his life. The nurses too came out after a while, giving a reassuring smile to him before rushing off to attend another patient.
That day, Aksh had found his heroes. His father slowly recovered and shifted to the general ward. His mother appeared more relaxed while Aksh would spend his time with his textbook and watching the doctors and nurses take care of the patients.
When his father was well enough to come home, Aksh would sit with him every night and reveal his plans to become a doctor. His parents were happy and supported his decision all the way.
Aksh started to concentrate harder on his studies. He had no friends and no girls to talk to, but he had his books and his dreams.
He graduated from high school with excellent marks and had no trouble finding admission in a good college.
That’s when his troubles had begun. Though his classmates regarded him as only a peer, it was the students from the college down the road that were heckling him.
Every day when he went home, he would have to go down the street where three boys would stand outside their college and make fun of him.
He was only called names at first and Aksh found it easier to just ignore them, but when one of them slung mud at him, Aksh had started to lose his composure.
He was thin and weak while his tormentors were well-built and would beat him up easily if he ever revolted.
Things got worse when the three boys surrounded him one afternoon and shoved him hard until he stumbled and fell face first into sludge.
“He thinks he’s better than us,” One of them had said.
Aksh removed his glasses and answered meekly, “I haven’t done anything to you. Leave me alone.”
One of them had bent over and laughed in his face. Then he called to one of his friends and asked him to bring a nearby trashcan.
Aksh trembled with fear as the three drew closer, grabbing the filthiest and wettest garbage they could find.
“Leave him alone!” Someone had called.
Two boys and two girls had rushed over and stood before the bullies.
“Stay out of it Dhiraj!” The leader of the bullies had said.
Dhiraj had grabbed the collar of the bully and pushed him back. “Venting out your frustrations on an innocent just because your brother was denied admission in his college? You’re pathetic, Sumit!”
The boys had exchanged rough words afterwards and the other boy had helped pick Aksh up.
“You okay?” He asked.
The two girls reached for tissues in their purses and handed it over to him.
“You could use the bathroom,” One of them said.
Thanks,” Aksh said, embarrassed by his deplorable state.
The girls led him to the bathroom and Aksh heard Dhiraj threaten Sumit to never bully him again.
“See you in the court,” Sumit had said.
Aksh had wondered if Sumit was going to drag Dhiraj to criminal court, but he kept this ridiculous idea to himself and later found out that Sumit had been referring to the badminton court.
That one act of kindness from these four strangers had made him feel indebted to them. They didn’t see it that way though, and that day, Aksh had made some friends.
They would meet up every day after their respective colleges closed for the day and Aksh told them why he wanted to be a doctor. His friends were supportive of him through all the grueling years he spent graduating from medical college and his internship.
The day when he finally became a doctor, Aksh was elated. All his hard work had paid off; his parents were proud and his friends were happy for him. Aksh thought his life couldn’t get any better.
That was until one day, a face from the past stepped into the hospital he was working in. As he entered the ward, his heart had stopped upon seeing Sumit- the bully who had tormented him through college. Someone had beaten up Sumit pretty badly. His right cheek had a large purple bruise, his eye was swollen and his lip was cut and bleeding.
Reminding himself of the Hippocratic oath he walked inside, studying the charts the nurse had handed him.
“Well look who it is,” Sumit taunted.
Aksh removed his stethoscope and was about to examine him, when Sumit stopped his hand. “I got beaten up here, on my face,” he riled on. “Who the hell made you a doctor if you couldn’t see and understand one simple thing?”
“I have to make sure there isn’t any internal bleeding.”
But Sumit kept annoying him. He teased him about paying his way into becoming a doctor and then refused to be treated by such an immature and incompetent doctor. The nurse had to step in and inform Sumit that there was no one else available to take his case, and so he had no choice.
“Bet they threw you out of all the important surgeries.”
“I don’t... I’m not...” Aksh was mortified to realize that he was so easily flustered by his nemesis’ taunts.
“Get on with the treatment,” The nurse advised him.
As Aksh looked over Sumit and tended to his cuts, Sumit kept making fun of him until something inside Aksh broke down. His anger surfaced from the depths he had buried it in. When the nurse handed him a prescription pad, he had paused. This was his chance...
One look at Sumit’s chart had shown him that he was allergic to a well-known painkiller. His hands didn’t falter as he wrote it down. At the last second, his conscience had made an appearance but it was too late. He was about to cancel the medication, when Sumit snatched it out of his hands.
“Were you this slow in writing your examinations too? Is that why it took you so long to become a doctor?” Sumit taunted.
Aksh clamped down on his conscience’s voice and watched Sumit walk away with a painkiller he thought would help him.
That night Aksh had waited by the phone, half-expecting Sumit to call and scream at him about prescribing the medicine but chances were that he wouldn’t know that the painkiller had been marketed under a different brand name.
His hands reached for the phone to call Sumit himself when the nurse had walked in.
“The patient you treated in the afternoon is back.” Her voice had been solemn and Aksh’s heart had sank. He knew it was him.
He had expected to see Sumit in worse shape, with slight breathing problems and a rash, instead he was shown the corpse of his bully.
“He went into anaphylactic shock.” He was told.
Aksh’s hands had gone cold. What was worse was that Dhiraj had come to the hospital to get his hand bandaged and when he saw Sumit being taken to the morgue, his mouth had dropped open.
He met his friend’s eyes across the room and Aksh had wondered if his friend had seen the guilt in his eyes. He knew. He didn’t know how Dhiraj could possibly know, but he did. He was caught!
Dhiraj had walked out without another word and when they met for the trip he had organized to celebrate his success, he hadn’t even looked at him. His guilt mounted into a bad mood that escalated when he met that crazy old man warning him of supernatural things that science couldn’t prove.
Then he had been screaming, about what he didn’t know, but there was a blinding light and the next thing he knew was that he was running through the dense forest.
When he came to his senses, he stopped, gasping for breath and falling to his knees. His mind reminded him that he had been running, though why he was doing that. he couldn’t remember.
He looked down and saw a gash on his arm. He would have to do something about it before he bled out. Clutching a hand over his blue shirt sleeve that was rapidly staining with blood, he staggered through the path between trees, his mind dazed.
When he saw a house before him, he blinked in surprise. Was it real? What was it doing in the woods?
That was when he remembered that his friends were not with him. He looked all around but couldn’t spot anyone else. He walked backwards, squinting in the darkness and realized that he had a scratch on the right lens of his glasses.
He was about to scream for help, when his back touched something. Holding his breath, he turned to see a girl with wild bushy hair covering part of her face. She was dressed in beige colored rags and there were streaks of dirt on her legs and arms—as if she hadn’t bathed for several months.
“Who are you?” Aksh asked.
“Help,” The girl said in a broken voice.
Aksh stooped and tried to see her features. Had he heard right. She needed help? “What?”
“Help me,” The girl repeated.
Aksh used his hand to brush away the hair from her face and saw dark circles around the girl’s eyes. “Who are you? You look familiar.”
The girl looked up with hollow dark eyes. “T-tina.”
Aksh gasped. “Tina? Tina Sulekhna?”
The girl suddenly grinned, her face turning dark as her skin wrinkled. Her eyes changed color until they were grey and her mouth opened to reveal jagged teeth.
Before Aksh could react, she raised her hand and grabbed him by the throat. Dragging him close, she grinned wider. Aksh could smell something rancid on her breath like old meat or rotten eggs.
“Not anymore she’s not.” the girl cackled.
Find out if Aksh survives: FOREST OF THE DARK