Sriram was sixteen when he found out he was related to one of the most famous criminals of his time.
He’d just started getting a light fuzz on his upper lip, and though his classmates teased him, there was envy behind their words, as well. As he stood in front of the mirror in his bedroom, stroking a finger over the less than luxuriant growth, he tried to imagine what he’d look like in a few years.
It wasn’t easy.
Well, that was what the Transmogrifer was for, after all.
If he remembered right, his mother left hers in the second drawer of her dressing table. Sure enough, Sriram found it where he expected it – his mother was very organised – and a moment later, he had switched the Transmogrifier to the ‘hair’ setting.
The Transmogrifier, though a recent invention, was one of those instant hits that changed the world. Some genius had come up with a way to produce the dream of every sci-fi fan – a ray gun that could change one object into another.
Well, not entirely. The Transmogrifier worked on temporarily changing physical characteristics of an object for a short time – the objects always reverted to their original form in the end. But it was a godsend for the film and fashion industry – and, of course, the criminal underworld, and the sex industry, where it was rumored that Transmogrifiers had been hacked to produce permanent results.
In ten years, plastic surgeons worldwide were out of business.
So it was this marvel of science that Sriram held in his hands as he hummed under his breath, and directed the mustache to grow on his upper lip.
Once he was done, Sriram turned his head this way and that, looking at his face from all angles. He looked different, more like a man than a boy. As Sriram raised a hand to run it over the edges of his mustache, there was a gasp behind him.
He spun around, and saw his mother looking at him with wide eyes. ‘Amma, I just wanted to see what it would look like—’
‘Take it off. Immeditately.’
Puzzled – but unable to argue with the steely tone in her voice, Sriram turned to the gently humming Transmogrifier, and reversed the change in his face.
‘Come with me,’ his mother said, still sounding shaken. ‘There are some things you need to know.’
Abuzz with curiosity, but reading his mother’s mood and keeping silent, Sriram followed her to the sitting room, where she sank down into a sofa bonelessly.
Following her example, Sriram sat down opposite her.
‘I told you your father died when you were just a baby,’ she started, and Sriram felt his gut churn. He had a feeling this conversation was going to go bad very quickly. He almost felt like telling his mother he didn’t want to hear it, but she was already continuing and saying—
‘…but the truth is that he abandoned me before you were born.’ She paused, and shook her head. ‘You musn’t blame him. He would have married me, if it hadn’t been for my father.’ Her mouth twisted.
‘Tatha?’ Sriram said, surprised. He had never heard his mother mention her parents, she’d only said they were both dead, and refused to talk of them. He’d always thought it had hurt her too much to remember them.
His mother nodded. ‘You’ve heard of him. His name is Gautam Acharya.’
Sriram tried to speak, but couldn’t seem to find words. His grandfather—his own grandfather—was the inventor of the Transmogrifier?
‘Then that means you’re…rich,’ Sriram said wonderingly, and his mother shook her head.
‘No, the legal fees sucked a lot out of the family, as did the retainer for the detectives…and then I finally gave all the money away.’
‘What!’ Sriram cried, his momentary dreams of fast cars and designer watches fading away. ‘Why’d you do that?’
‘For the same reason your father left me,’ his mother snapped, eyes flashing angrily at him.
‘Because my father murdered my mother.’
Shocked into silence again, Sriram could only stare at his mother. ‘My name is not really Anjani,’ she said after a moment, meeting his eyes. ‘I was named Jaya by my mother, and was the middle of three sisters. When my father was arrested for the murder, I was fresh out of college, already engaged to my boyfriend, and pregnant with you. But when the trial started, it became a media sensation, your grandfather being who he was, and the notoriety was too much for your father.’
‘What—’ Sriram stopped, and cleared his throat. ‘What happened to grandmother?’
‘I didn’t know it at the time, but it all came out at the trial.’ Jaya squirmed for a moment, before rushing on: ‘Mama had been having an affair with Papa’s business parter, Vibhu uncle. Or maybe Papa only thought she was. The prosecution could never be sure, and Papa refused to speak about it. Anyway, he—he killed her, and dumped her—god knows where. They’ve never been able to find her,’ Jaya said, voice trembling. ‘But one day Mama was missing, and the servants had heard Papa yelling that he’d kill her for her infidelity.’
‘Papa was found guilty, and he’s been in prison ever since—but our lives were shattered.’
Getting up, Sriram sank to his knees before his mother, grasping her hands in his. They were cold, and he gripped them tighter, hoping to transfer some of his strength to her. He wished he had never touched the damned Transmogrifier. His own vision blurred as he saw his mother wipe away tears.
‘So I changed my name, and moved back to India. I used the Transmogrifier to alter my features, so I couldn’t be identified any more. I didn’t want you to be burdened with the Acharya name, as we all were.’
She looked at him, at his upper lip, as if still seeing his mustache there.
‘When you used the Transmogrifier on yourself, you looked just like him,’ she whispered. ‘Like Papa.’
Sriram shook his head. He felt slightly sick to know that he had a murderer in his family. ‘Thanks, Amma,’ he whispered, getting up on his knees and hugging her. ‘Thanks for doing so much for me.’
She hugged him back fiercely. ‘My one regret is that I never found her,’ she said softly. ‘The family lawyers have been looking for years, but they never found my mother.’
Sriram said nothing, only tightening his hold on his mother.
One way or another, he swore to himself, he’d find his grandmother, and bring her home.
Featuring cross-dressing assassins, were-snakes, gods and goddesses, demonesses and asura kings, Dark Things Between the Shadow and the Soul retells age-old tales from Indian mythology—with a twist. Rearranging myth and legend to create new plots, these short stories will delight lovers of the unusual.
[mood| busy working]
[music| Love is only a feeling: The Darkness]
Image from Morguefile.com