Samuel Clooney was doomed.

    His new book had received abysmal reviews…

  “Sam Clooney’s comeback is too insipid…too predictable compared to his famous Gabriel series….”

   It stung. 

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     Mostly, because it was true.

     Once famous as a writer of the thriller series – “The tales of Dr. Gabriel North”, Samuel was now a bitter, lonely man.

      Sometimes, he recited his previous reviews to himself.

“…Dark, gritty and engrossing…you cannot leave the book midway. Samuel Clooney successfully pulls us into a psychopath’s mind and thrills and haunts our senses in equal measures…”

 Dr. Gabriel North. Samuel Clooney’s wild child…Two years ago, Samuel was written off as a failure. His wife, Marianne left him. Depressed and debt ridden, he poured his bitterness and self loathing on the parchment. Those emotions solidified into a personality – Dr.Gabriel North.

  “You know Mrs. Sutherfield, I had named him after an angel that fell from the heavens…” His cat, as usual, looked supremely bored. Sam had narrated the story a gazillion times. It went back to judiciously licking its paws…

Sam stumbled towards his library. His old books sat gathering dust over the past months. He took out a copy and read out aloud….

   Dr. Gabriel North, a brainy but alexithymic anesthesiologist. He claimed a pain free post-operative recovery in the road traffic accident victims using self designed STYX PROTOCOL. But when a twelve year old Morgan started having psychotic breakdowns post her treatment, Nurse Mary got curious…

   Her investigations lead her to unearth an inconceivable secret. She discovered a trail of his past victims driven insane by his treatment. What exactly was Dr. North injecting in his patients? What was the STYX PROTOCOL? 

“…Terrifyingly gripping and imaginative…the book is a must read….”

The series catapulted Samuel to the top league authors overnight. Gabriel became Sam’s catharsis. Sam poured his bitterness and anger into Gabriel’s character and kept himself sane. Gradually, Gabriel was all Sam could think of. Sam started imagining his presence around him. The final straw was when Samuel almost poisoned his ex-wife because Gabriel wanted him to. Shaken, he locked Gabriel up in a dark abyss of his mind. He promised himself never to write about him again. The Gabriel series terminated abruptly. So did his stardom.

He lost his deal with the publishers. Depression returned. He sought escape in alcohol and drugs, wishing he could be anywhere but in the present.

“Why did you stay back Mrs. Sutherfield? You don’t even seem to like me all that much…” He struck the conversation with his cat again. It was his only companion. The cat continued to stare at him with its beady amber eyes.

He started to take another swig of alcohol. His glass was empty.

Cursing, he staggered downstairs in search of booze. His vision alternated between fuzzy around corners and dizzyingly sharp. The air in the room was turning chilly, but Sam barely noticed.

He missed his step …he tumbled headfirst over the curved staircase…the last image he had was of Mrs. Sutherfield at the top of the stairs meowing like crazy. She appeared mad at him for dying on her…

****

He had no idea how much time had passed. Samuel got up to a curious sensation. His body felt …light..untethered …His gaze seemed hazy at the corners…as if his glasses were misted over after exiting out of an air-conditioned room.

He attempted to get up to check for his injuries. He managed to stand and turn. Then his heart skipped a beat.

He saw his own self lying still on the floor; his neck bent at an unnatural angle. A thin stream of blood trickled down his nose and was starting to stain his Persian rug…

He felt for his pulse…it beat strong….

“Am I dead?” He felt foolish asking his cat.

Mrs. Sutherfield turned around and walked towards the backyard.

Sam had a feeling it wanted him to follow…..he did.

He saw a …was that a wormhole* in his yard…? This seemed like concussion induced hallucination…

Shiny blue letters glowed inside the wormhole… STYX….

He had a feeling of forbidding …Samuel had chosen that name from Greek mythology. A river in the Underworld that separated life and death.

Mrs. Sutherfield seemed to want him to enter the wormhole*…

“No thanks…I have no plans of entering a strange gateway. I am probably hallucinating because I am drunk as a skunk. No plans at all.”

“Best laid plans of mice and men …often go awry….” A familiar voice spoke from the other side of the wormhole. That was unmistakably his ex-wife.

“Marianne??” Warily, he approached the opening….

He was instantaneously pulled inside by an unknown force before he even registered his fall.

He had a spine chilling feeling of being hurled down from the top of a mountain without a parachute.

Finally, his feet found solid ground. He landed in what seemed to be a forest…

Before him, stood a man smirking, like a hunter, who had finally caught his prized trophy.

****

His grey eyes and sharp cheekbones were strikingly familiar. A thin scar ran from his right cheek to his temple giving his otherwise handsome features, a hint of cruelty. He was Dr. Gabriel North. Sam had envisioned him in his mind a million times as he wrote his stories.

“Welcome Samuel Clooney; It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

“What is this place?”

“This place exists in a parallel dimension. It originates in your mind.” North’s tone held reluctant admiration.

“You have a surreal imagination, Samuel. The stronger you felt for your characters, the clearer we manifested ourselves in this realm. A lot of your plot characters wander this place, reliving your plots every moment. Your energies are so strong it has projected into our physical manifestation.”

Samuel just stood dumbstruck.”I don’t see anybody except you…”

“I am a product of your hatred and desperation…Since it was the strongest of your feelings, I am the strongest in this realm. You don’t think of other characters as frequently. Hence, you don’t see them….”

A shiver passed Sam’s body.

“Why am I here?”

“Because you wished for it.” Dr. North said simply.

“Didn’t you want to be anywhere but in your world? You wished so every day. Your wish is granted. I have been meaning to study your brain…Such creativity…..your mind is my redemption, Samuel”

There was a hungry look on Gabriel’s face.

A thin line of sweat broke along Sam’s temple.

Dr. Gabriel pulled out a syringe loaded with magenta red crystals. From a distance, they looked like pomegranate seeds.

“Persephone’s fruit*” a faint memory stirred deep in Sam’s mind. He recollected the words from his penultimate novel..

….Mary was shocked. Dr. Gabriel North was injecting his victims, a decanted serum obtained from a rare mineral found deep within the bowels of the earth. It was reported to have properties which could accentuate out of body experiences. The mineral was called Styxite….

Gabriel shook the syringe hard. The crystals morphed into a carmine colored fluid. Sam’s mind turned back to the present.

“Do you remember…” Gabriel stroked the syringe lovingly looking at Samuel.

“Persephone’s garden in the underworld had a pomegranate tree. 

Eating the fruit bound you for eternity. 

You could travel between the worlds of dead and undead.

But the dead would accompany you as well.” 

Gabriel recited the verse from Samuel’s research notes.

“Let us see how well they work on you Samuel…let’s make you taste your own medicine.”

****

Sam ran like a maniac…..He wanted put maximum distance between him and the crazed character that was once his pride and joy.

Thunderstorm raged in the sky. Gabriel was in no hurry. His latest victim would open new doors for his research. He rubbed his hands in anticipation. The game was on. 

Sam was exhausted. He didn’t know where he was running to. Suddenly, he lost his balance and fell. His foot was caught in a gnarled tree stump on the forest floor.

He saw Gabriel closing in on him…Like a panther stalking his prey…

“It’s just a prick Samuel….”

Gabriel bent over Sam. He tapped the syringe to release a stray bubble.

Sam wished nothing more at the moment than Gabriel being distracted and leaving him alone.

 A shrill cry filled the forest. It was Marianne’s voice again. It was followed by shattering glass.

“Nurse Mary is puttering in my lab again.” Gabriel frowned. “She needs to be taken care of before she destroys my lab. Stay put Sam.”

He stalked off towards his lab.

Samuel was about to restart his efforts to free himself when a hand landed on his shoulder.

His heart caught in his throat as he looked into hazel eyes of his ex-wife.

“Marianne?”

“Nurse Mary. The nurse who fought Gabriel in your last novel.”

Sam remembered he had written her character on lines of his ex-wife. Hence the resemblance, he realized.

She started hacking at the tree stump which trapped his foot. Samuel was free in a few minutes.

“He is very powerful. Reliving the story again and again has strengthened his aura. Your will to escape reality and his will to find new victims was so strong, both your energies wove themselves into the wormhole and connected our world to yours.”

“What exactly does he want?”

“Have you forgotten your plot’s climax?”

The story played again in Samuel’s mind…

….Mary read the papers with growing trepidation. Dr. Gabriel North had painstaking recorded his research notes. Styxite was mined from deep underground. In Greek mythology, Styx represented the Underworld… Styxite had properties to induce deep sleep/trance when injected. The individual hovered between life and death, free of pain …great potential for use in pain management. However, it could permanently alter the memories…..severe hallucinations…..

Mary read Gabriel’s Inferences in the end 

  1. Are they hallucinating or actually seeing dead people?
  2. Is the drug somehow opening parallel dimensions in their heads and/or the gateway between underworld and mortal world?

“He wants inject you with the drug and keep you here eternally asleep. Then he can access your thoughts and find the entrance that links your world to this world and enter your dimension. He cannot do that until he enters your mind.”

“He wants to come alive?” Samuel was shocked as she nodded.

“Why did I hear your voice at the entrance?”

“I had to inform you that Gabriel was getting stronger in this dimension. He has been trying to find a way out of here. He almost succeeded last week. His torture is getting unbearable. Only you can save us.”

“How? He is much more intelligent…”

“Gabriel is your creation. Your thoughts. Your strengths are his weakness. That’s all I can tell you.”

Mary pointed to a large building to his right as she disappeared into the mist.

****

The lab was stark and sterile. Gabriel lurking somewhere nearby. Sam was thinking hard.

This is Gabriel’s realm. He is powerful here. I need to take him to a no-man’s land where our strengths are equally matched.

The wormhole is like a nest. Your thoughts and his aura interwoven. Mary whispered in his head.

He devised a crazy plan.

He rushed to the bench and filled a syringe with the Carmine crystals. He shook them hard and saw them turning into a liquid. He took a deep breath and hid the syringe in his pocket. Then he willed hard for Gabriel to come in the room.

Gabriel appeared in a flash, looking irked that he could be summoned by Samuel.

“This is the last time you control me Samuel.” He took out the syringe. “Straight in your carotid. As you hover between life and death, your link to your body will be weakest. I will switch your soul and tether my aura to your body and walk out in your world. I will write my own story from this moment.”

Sam tried to tackle him, but Gabriel got his collar.

“No funny business Sam…No more running away.”

It all happened in one instant. Samuel took out his syringe as Gabriel readied his needle. Gabriel injected Sam. The same moment, Sam stabbed Gabriel with his syringe, right in the heart.

The world went dark.

*****

Sam found himself in a chasm. The walls seemed to be made of pulsating energy. The floor was morphing from a solid to liquid form, resembling a river current. Samuel was at the threshold of both worlds. Over the river Styx.

Gabriel appeared a second later. He looked dazed but determined carrying a surgical knife in his hand.

“Your chapter ends here.” Gabriel tried to stab Sam in the abdomen. Sam feigned and twisted himself out of his way. The knife got stuck in the river replicating a macabre Excalibur Model.

“Never mind. I will strangle you with my bare hands.”

Sam’s fear fueled Gabriel’s energy. He became bigger and beefier. Sam tried to pull back the knife but Gabriel started squeezing his throat. Sam could feel his pulse slowing down. He saw a door cracking open in the chasm…the door of death….

In his final moments, his will to live burned stronger than ever. “I won’t die like this.” He thought with conviction.

At this thought, Gabriel’s grip slackened, surprising both of them.

In a burst of strength, Sam pushed him away, pulled the knife and stabbed Gabriel in his neck.

The walls of the room glowed brighter until three doors appeared.

One door lead to the underworld, a door to the mortal world and a third door to the world where this nightmare had started. He had to choose. But which was which? Gabriel lay on the floor twitching terribly.

The room started unraveling itself like a torn woolen sweater…It seemed Gabriel’s death had weakened its weave; his aura no longer supporting the STYX….It was now disintegrating. He had to find the right door before the room collapsed.

He stared at the three doors till his eyes watered. Was that a shadow of his cat against the middle door?

Praying his instinct was right, he pushed himself against that door using every ounce of energy left. The door opened. He felt sucker punched in his gut. He stiffened and fell unconscious.

****

There was a light at the end of the tunnel. It was so bright it was hurting his eye.

“Mr. Clooney…can you hear me?”

His head throbbed….

A paramedic was shining a torch in his eyes.

Sam came to his senses. He could see the ceiling of his house. He had survived.

“You have sustained serious fall and possibly multiple fractures. You are lucky to be alive. We are taking you to the hospital.”

Sam started to thank the paramedic who was strapping him. The paramedic’s face was covered with a mask.

 A scream died in Samuel’s throat. The paramedic shook a syringe filled with carmine colored drug. His grey eyes were full of malicious laughter.

*********

Glossary :

Wormhole : A speculative structure linking two different points in space and time.
Persephone : Queen of Underworld
Persephone’s fruit : A cursed fruit which binds a person to underworld (Greek)

==>This is an entry for Artales-17, #DrNorth, an ArtoonsInn writing event.

Check the event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/artales17/
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Struggled and Soared “stories of courageous women of India”. A non-fiction that talks about the women that reflect the spirit of India – an invincible spirit to be free! Dr North till July 31stIt is the story of four Indian women who have one thing in common –courage to follow their heart and do what they felt right. Reading this book would be like taking a much needed break from the false propaganda and information that you are surrounded with on digital media. This is just the right book that will give your mind freedom to be yourself and an invaluable inspiration as well as meaning to life. The author has done full justice while accounting the life of all inspirational women from India’s past and present. We recommend this book for those who love to read well-researched works.

Link to buy this book:

Vipil Written by Vipin Chopal

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Artoon Pallavi’s story cover picture courtesy : Elti Mashau

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