THE EARBUD CHRONICLES (cont.)
Far across town, in the Inspector General’s house, little Bela got out of bed, leaving behind a blue ear-bud on her pillow. As the clock tower, in the central square, tolled the midnight hour, she slipped latches and unlocked bolts fixed by her cautious father on their front door. She moved down the street silently, her feet apparently gliding a few inches above the dusty road, white nightgown trailing behind like a ghostly train in the pitch-blackness. She soon reached the ruins of the deserted hospital.
At her approach, the gates hanging lopsidedly shut, suddenly creaked, and tried to part. The large sealed lock that the police had optimistically placed, trembled, shattered, and joined the shards of its brethren on the barren earth. The rusted chain binding the gates, slithering like a live snake, unravelled. The gates swung open on creaking hinges. In a flash, she was across the littered yard and inside the crumbling ruin. Past corridors -- dusty, dead-leaves strewn, its walls pockmarked, mildewed, sagging, and in places completely collapsed -- she moved with regal calmness until she came to the door of the Operation Theatre, where the five children waited. The door opened. She woke up.
Her face scrunched in a rictus of fear; she opened her mouth to scream, but no sound emerged. She barely saw the five children rising to welcome her. Petrified, her gaze locked on the horrific sight of men and women hanging from the wall in chains. Tattered remnants of uniforms -- doctors and nurses -- hung in shreds from their emaciated bodies. They were bleeding, covered with putrid sores; their ripped open abdominal cavities showed missing organs. They writhed in their restrains, screamed and shrieked, cursed and cried out their endless pain to a deaf world.
Bela’s eyes closed in a dead faint. The five ran to her, embraced her, tried to explain, to comfort, but to no avail. At their touch, her body shuddered and her innocent soul left the Earth to ascend to a heavenly abode.
“We must not touch them. We can’t touch them. I told you we should not touch them,” Ali reiterated in despair.
“Not another child. Oh Bela, don’t die, come back to us. We need you,” cried Naveen disconsolate.
“Oh Bela, Bela. We are so sorry we called you, but what are we to do?” wailed Laxmi, rocking the fragile little body in her arms. Gopal and Alka chaffed her hands, but it was far too late.
A fortnight later, on the subsequent new moon night, the five doggedly arrayed themselves around the surgical table again. Crunching the doctors’ fried fingers dipped in the nurses’ blood -- a diet sourced from those who had caused their own deaths -- enabled them to gather the strength to summon a live human being. As children themselves, and incomplete at that, their powers were severely limited. It would have been so much easier if they could have informed an adult human. These doctors, abetted by their nurses, had kidnapped them from their villages, and killed them to sell their organs to the highest bidder. They had to be exposed. People needed to learn that eternal agony awaited such villains.
Indeed, such a crime, perpetrated by people trusted and respected above all in society, deserved a fate beyond the scope of mortals. The children’s heartbroken parents still waited and hoped their child would one-day return home. They were poor; no one had helped them trace their lost child. They did not know their child was already dead -- slaughtered by unscrupulous human monsters for monetary gain.
However, the children had avenged their own deaths. They had brought the hospital crumbling to its knees and the heinous murderers, to fitting justice. Once people understood retribution lasts endlessly beyond death, the five could ascend to heaven.
They had tried to lead the police, through the clue of the earbuds, to the garbage dump behind the hospital. The rag pickers collected the cotton from there, washed and reused them in the earbuds -- a dangerously unhealthy practice that needed to stop.
Incriminating evidence was in that dump, but the detectives were yet to solve the mystery of the earbuds. Although they had searched the interiors and grounds of the hospital for clues, they had avoided the garbage dump that lay just beyond the walls. Fear of malignant germs festering from hospital-waste, had kept them away. There, covered under heaps of rubbish, lay buried the looted bodies of Ali, Laxmi, Gopal, Alka and little Naveen.
Only an innocent child can witness the vision of the after world on new moon nights. The determined five have no other option but to keep on trying – until they find someone brave enough to witness the misery in that room and not die of fright. One who will be able to describe everything they see, direct the authorities to the gruesome evidence, and bring closure for their parents. Only then will the children’s ghosts be free to move on; only then will the town regain its health.
Now, gutsy reader, you are ready to hear the complete truth. This story tested your mettle. You have proved your valour by reading through to the very end. You are the one who can help these children. You will courageously venture forth when a blue earbud lands on your pillow tonight.