It was all smoke.
And a deafening thunder.
It was a bomb again. A row of men clad in khaki emerged into sight as soon as the smoke cleared away. They had bruised faces and red stains on their tattered uniforms. Never uttering a word, sometimes one of them raised his head only to see his own dread reflected in his neighbour’s bloodshot eyes. Armed gunmen stood behind them sticking the nozzle of the guns into their backs.
As the men stood sorting out their fate, two cloaked men advanced towards the barrack. One of them moved towards the men, exhibiting a ferocious superiority as he walked. He stood near one of the men and with a grin and hatred on his face he uttered in a quivering voice, ” Prisoners of war!” He then turned to the other cloaked man. “What do you think will happen to them Michael?” The other man who till then was observing the impact of the bomb that had denoted a while ago, looked at his superior with a clueless expression in his blue eyes. His superior grinned back in reply.
Michael moved down the row of prisoners observing their gruesome bitter faces and bloody clothes. Suddenly he stopped at a face. The prisoner looked up and saw Michael staring at him. A flash of thought passed through Micheal’s mind like a sudden draft of electricity. But before he could fathom the thought, a loud voice arose that said “Shoot”. A thunderous noise shook the place as bullets were hurled like rain. Michael saw blood sprouting out of the prisoner’s chest like a fountain. A jet of warm, red fluid streamed down his khaki uniform, smearing the badges he wore and the name-plate which read ‘Major Samuel Joseph’ . The prisoner’s eyes were still locked with Michael’s. Bloodshot and terrifying, it seemed that his eyeballs would come out any moment. A shabby despair and a strange pain was visible on his face before he fell on the ground with a loud thud.
The row of prisoners became in no time a bundle of bodies.
Two months later, two odd-looking men sat in a canvas tent that shook every time the wind garnered speed. By the seriousness of their countenance one could easily have understood that they were planning something very important. “Are you sure he will do it, Jimmy?” said the man dressed in neat tuxedo as he stacked bundles of notes in a suitcase.
“Do it, boss? By the good Lord, he’s gotta be terrific”, replied Jimmy as he sucked a sip of the cola.
“So did you find out all about him, Jimmy?”
“Of course, boss. He was in the army during the War. Now he’s resigned. A week before, he came and offered to do this.” Jimmy sucked the cola again making a noisy gurgling sound.
” So how much does he demand?”
” Nothing.” The boss raised his head for the first time from the sea of notes .
“Nothing? Are you sure?”, he asked .
” By your wife boss, nothing at all.” Jimmy replied in a dry tone.
” Strange. But then why does he want to do it?”
” Well, he says that it’s better than having nightmares and hallucinations and the kinda life he’s got, boss. ” Jimmy gurgled the cola again. ” By this cola boss, he is so strange. He said that he dreams that he is dead. And another guy walks up to him and kisses him on the forehead. And then this guy bursts into a loud laughter. By all the wonders of the world boss, it’s the strangest dream I have come across.”
The boss had forgotten about the large amount of money on the table.His eyes were wide open and he listened with intent.
” Weird case. Weird man.” said the boss. ” But weirder is the event, Jimmy- Valley Of Death.” And he burst out into a cold loud laughter that seemed to shake the tent.
It was time for the great event that had brought money reeling into their lives. Jimmy and his boss walked out of the tent and savoured the crowd that had gathered there on the cliff. Cut out from the city by a dense forest, the cliff ended abruptly into a deep gorge.
” This is the wildest crowd of the city”, thought the boss as he walked past the people. There were people who were bored with their lives and those who were drowning in utter despair. Then there were the adventurous ones, the sadists, the weed-smokers, the misplaced teenagers, the pissed out adults, and many other classes of human beings. They were all shouting in a terrifying chorus ” We want the Valley of Death.” The boss had given them all a place to let go all the bonds and hopelessness that was eating into their lives. He felt proud of himself as he walked with Jimmy trudging his bulky body by his side.
The boss was now standing at the edge of the cliff facing the enormous crowd and the deep gorge behind him.
” Welcome all you fellas to the Valley of Death!” A wild volley of chants and slangs rose in the air.
” Here we are under this wild sky with all of you and of course a Death Rider.” Wild cheers continued.
” The game still remains the same. Here is a cliff. There is another one. And between them is a gorge so deep , that if one was thrown down he would be smashed into pieces and out of existence. The challenge is to leap across this deadly gorge, to that far away cliff on a bike. Till now we have had three brave riders but all of them ended down there. ” Another row of wild hooting kicked off. The crowd was really enjoying this.
” Every rider gets one chance as arranged by nature in this game. Either you win or are dead.” Hooting followed.
” So ladies and gentlemen please welcome the Death Rider for today.” There was a light silence. “Please welcome all you folks, the brave Daredevil Michael”.
The biker was standing in the midst of the crowd. A huge round of applause shook the valley.One could see Michael’s blue eyes looking intently at the massive distance he had to leap. Michael walked without looking at anyone and mounted his bike. The engine started rumbling. Jimmy and his boss joined the crowd to see the spectacle. The boss saw Michael’s eyes that seemed to tell some dreary story. A strange thought struck his mind. He turned to Jimmy “Doesn’t he have a family or friends? Anyone whom he loves?”
Jimmy was busy cheering the biker. He looked at his boss puzzled and then uttered casually “He is an orphan. No relatives or family. He grew up in an orphanage. Only that he always talked of a friend during our meetings. A childhood friend of his. Some Samuel Joseph.”
The rumble of the engine shook the entire mob. And then…
It was all smoke.
And a deafening thunder.