When he was twelve, Akhilesh became a Soul Eater.
At least, that was how he preferred to describe himself. Others used less kind words – when they thought he couldn’t hear them.
His classmates inched away from him when he sat next to them, and even the teachers wouldn’t meet his eyes any more.
But what could he do? He was what he was, the latest in a long line of kanthababas, and wishing would change nothing.
The other boys looked at him surreptitiously when he opened his lunch box, trying not to stare when he put the rice into his mouth.
And even that was fine.
Because the worst, the very worst, was when one of his classmates wouldn’t come to school – and that was when Akhilesh began to pray: please let nothing bad happen, please let everything be all right…
Every once in a very long while, it was.
Usually, though, his classmate wouldn’t return, but the news would come. The boy’s father had died, or his mother had, or his new baby sister had not lasted the year, or a snake had bitten his older brother in the fields…
Then everyone would turn and look at Akhilesh, because they all knew what it meant.
And when he went home, Akhilesh’s father would be outside, waiting impatiently. He’d set off with them to his classmate’s house, still in his school uniform, along with Akhilesh’s grandfather, and his uncles; the rest of them already discussing the price they would quote.
The bereaved family would greet them outside – the only time kanthababas were ever shown such respect – and then the haggling would begin. Akhilesh usually stopped paying attention at those times, preferring instead to watch the funeral arrangements going on around him. Eventually, a price would be agreed upon, and the kanthababas would sit to their meal.
It would be lavish, because this was what the kanthababas did; they ate food at a bereaved family’s house, so that the departed soul could gain peace, and ascend to his ancestors.
And this was why the kanthababas were feared, as well – because if the price wasn’t right, they would not eat, and the departed soul would be left on earth as a preta – a ghost.
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.
[music| We All Fall Down:Sweet Talk Radio]
Image credit: worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net, with thanks.