Five years ago

Samaira’s marriage had been arranged to Arjun Chatterjee, as soon as she had completed college. Arjun was 9 years older than her, a wealthy and successful hotelier settled in the prosperous Beverly Hills neighborhood in California, U.S.A. She had never been asked for her opinion about the alliance but secretly, she had felt some hope about being able to start afresh in a new country. 

Little had she realized that being on the dependent visa meant that she was completely at the mercy of her husband for her every need. Fortunately, Arjun was a kind man. However, being a hotelier meant that he worked long hours and wasn’t able to pay much attention to her. This, coupled with being an introvert, meant that she spent several days alone, and the loneliness was beginning to get to her. 

The discovery of the Beverly Hills public library had been her salvation. One day as she was returning some books, she noticed the flyer for the writing workshop. It was a free one offered by the library and attending it had changed her life. She re-discovered her passion for writing. She used to make up stories in her childhood, but had gotten away from it during her adolescent years. It felt like reacquainting with a forgotten part of herself.

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As a child, she had been fascinated with stories about fairies, unicorns, and other mythological creatures that were generally considered to be representations of “good” in the world. As an adult now though, she was more fascinated with the darker side of mythology- the demons and the monsters. Horror and thrillers attracted her, and she found herself vividly imagining plots for murder mysteries. Therefore, it had been no surprise when she had created the character of Dr. Gabriel North. 

The name had been chosen purposefully- Gabriel had come from an angel in Christianity, while North represented her being in North America. She found it more thrilling to have a supernatural predator and that is how, Dr. North, a vampire who was a successful pathologist, had been created. 

Right around the time she had finished the first novel, Amazon USA was having a contest for new writers. She had sent the manuscript in under the pseudonym, Samuel Clooney. She hadn’t expected to win and therefore,  had been shocked when she had received the email letting her know that the novel had been chosen for publication.

The book became an instant bestseller, prompting Amazon to contract with her for three more books. She was careful to keep all her interactions with them only via email, under her pseudonym.  She had also set up a bank account under the same pseudonym, and the royalties from the books gave her the financial independence that she wanted. 

Each book in the series turned out to be a huge hit. She experienced guilt sometimes about hiding it from her husband and family but she knew that they would never approve of the content that she wrote. In that sense, she felt a kinship with Dr. North- both of them led double lives, hiding the darker side of them.

One year ago

Arjun had invested in a new hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana and they moved there. Samaira had fallen in love with New Orleans at first sight. The history of New Orleans was fascinating, with it having been one of the major ports for the slave trade in the past. Every nook and corner of the French Quarter had signs pertaining to the supernatural- witch shops, vampire tours, ghost tours, cemetery tours, etc. 

But, it was the Louisiana Bayou that attracted her the most. Surrounding the city on all four sides, the Bayou was generally quiet and avoided by tourists. Arjun had been happy to oblige her request to buy a house overlooking the Bayou, having become well acquainted with her quiet and sensitive nature. 

Samaira had heard of the horror stories surrounding the Bayou from the locals- she was aware that it contained many dead bodies of slaves who had tried to run away and drowned, as well as those dumped by human and animal predators. She had been warned to stay indoors at night, and to keep the doors and windows locked. It was exactly the kind of fodder that she needed for her rich imagination, and she couldn’t wait to begin writing her next and last book in the Dr. North series. 

The meeting

It was close to midnight. The thunderstorm that had started in the evening, had gained more force in the night. Arjun had elected to stay in his hotel that night due to the weather. Alone at home, the eerie atmosphere created by the howling wind and the thunderstorm spurred her to write. 

She was deeply engrossed in her work when she heard the knock. At first she thought she had imagined it, but it came again- a soft knock on the back door, which faced the Bayou. She felt goosebumps on her arms. 

“Stop it!” she chided herself. It was likely just a tree branch.

But, the knocking increased. There was no mistaking it. Slowly, she moved to the porch door. She could make out the silhouette of a human against it. Who on earth was up and about at this time in the Bayou?

“Who is it?”, she called out in a tremulous voice. 

“Dr. North,” came the reply. The voice was deep, rich, and had an ancient quality to it. She felt her blood turn cold.

“This is not a joke,” she said, trying to inject anger into her tone but it came out more as a croak.

“I assure you it’s not,” said the Voice. 

“What do you want?” she croaked again.

“Please let me in,” said the Voice.

She panicked. She should call the cops. Her imagination was conjuring up the various ways she could be killed by this intruder. 

“Samaira Chatterjee, or Samuel Clooney, whatever you prefer- I am not here to harm you. I just thought it was time for us to meet.”

The Voice knew who she was. She felt faint. This couldn’t be happening.

“Go away, I am calling the cops!”

“Please don’t. They will only end up dying.” 

She felt frozen. 

“Sam, if I may call you that, I am requesting you again to open the door. I am a vampire. I cannot come in without your permission. If I was a human, don’t you think I could have easily broken through this door?”

Her brain felt muddled. On one hand, his logic made sense. On the other hand, was this even really happening? A fictional monster that she created was claiming to exist in real life? Surely, she was dreaming or hallucinating?

Either way she was doomed, she reasoned. Human or not, it didn’t seem likely that he was going to go away. And, she didn’t think the cops would be able to get to her isolated location quickly enough to be able to save her. She was on her own. 

Arming herself with a butcher knife that she used to cut meat and fish, she turned on the outside light and opened the door. She found herself staring into a stunning face- vivid blue eyes, pale face, thick, dark hair parted neatly on the left, immaculately pressed suit which seemed dry even in this weather, a tall, fit body. The pounding in her head increased- he was exactly as she had described him in her novels. 

“Come in,” she whispered.

The rational part of her brain was screaming at her for her foolishness. But, she found herself hypnotized by those eyes. Just like the victims in her books. 

He stepped in and his presence filled her senses, filled the room. He was staring at her with such intensity. 

“I know you have many questions,” he said. “I am real, I assure you.”

“Well, vampire or not, I have just now invited a strange man into my house at midnight,” she said, feeling on the verge of hysteria.  

“I had to meet you, I couldn’t hold myself back.”

“This cannot be happening. I think the loneliness has finally driven me crazy,” she murmured to herself.

He caught her chin and forced her to look at him. Before she knew it, he had pressed his lips to her. His lips were cool but they ignited a fire deep within her. She had certainly never experienced that kind of passion, that too from a simple kiss, with her husband.

He let her go and she found herself staring at him wide-eyed.

“I am not here to hurt you. I wanted you to know me. I love you,” he said quietly. 

She felt stunned. Who was she to tell about this? Who would believe her? She was definitely going to get institutionalized if she tried to tell people that a vampire loved her and had just kissed her.  

“Fine! Explain what is going on to me,” she said, not bothering to keep the hysteria out of her voice. “And, don’t touch me! If you do, I swear I will hack you!”

“I know it is hard to believe this is true,” he said soothingly. “Humans refuse to believe that monsters truly exist because it helps them feel at ease. The reality is too frightening to accept. I saw you on your wedding day, radiant in your bridal finery. I do apologize- I feasted at your wedding too, on some of your guests. That’s what I love most about India- with your bursting population, missing people never seemed to be noticed,” he grinned as though it was a joke he was sharing with her.

“Killing people isn’t funny,” she snapped at him.

“There is that spark I admire. I wish you wouldn’t keep it hidden,” he said wistfully. “Anyway, I also noticed how little people seemed to care about your wishes. You obediently followed everything you were told. I decided to follow you and your new husband to make sure he treated you well. I was glad to see that he did, but a part of me was also growing jealous of him. He got your attention, but he didn’t seem to realize how precious that was. He spent a lot of time holed up at work, and there you were, a beautiful princess locked up in a tower.”

She said nothing. He continued.

“I wanted you to know me. But, I didn’t want you to be afraid. I saw my chance with the workshop. As a vampire, I have the power to hypnotize and compel people to do what I want. I actually sat behind you in the workshop, in disguise of course, and when you went for a bathroom break, I followed you. I compelled you to start writing horror novels and then, to forget meeting me.”

“So, you are telling me that you just used me as a medium for your stories?” she asked sarcastically. 

He laughed.

“No, my dear, I just planted the seed in your mind and did also give you a description of how I look. The rest of it, including making me a doctor, was actually your idea.”

“So, I suppose you are going to tell me that you compelled my publishers as well?”

“Yes, I did,” he said still amused. “It started because I wanted you to get out of your husband’s shadow, develop your own independent identity. But, I also felt you had true potential. All those people who have read and loved your books- they weren’t compelled by me. The deal on the remaining books with Amazon- again, not my doing. The only other compelling I did was to your husband- I wanted you to be in New Orleans so that we could finally meet. So, I made him buy his hotel here and you were finally in my birthplace.”

She stared at him. 

“Are you going to hurt Arjun?” she finally asked.

“I have wanted to for a long time,” he admitted. “But, over the centuries, I have developed a sort of moral compass for myself- I only kill those who hurt others. Your husband seems like a good man and you seem to love him. Hurting him would be breaking my code and hurting you.”

“So, what now?” she asked. “Are you expecting me to leave my husband and come and live with you? Am I supposed to travel the world with you? And, are you planning on turning me into a vampire too or using me as food when I grow old?”

He sighed.  

“Valid questions. I do hope that you will come clean to your husband about your writer identity. I want you to be known for who you are, show your talent to the world. You are so much more than just a simple homemaker. If he cannot accept you for that, then you decide what you want to do with your future- you can remain just his wife, or you can walk out and be with me.”

“Is that an ultimatum?” 

He stared deeply into her eyes.

“No, if you don’t want me in your life, I will never bother you again. I just hope you find the courage to be your true self openly, without fearing judgement. I am going to take your leave now. I hope you make the right choice.”

With that, he left as unexpectedly as he had come. She stared dazed at the open porch door, then closed and locked it. She went to bed and fell asleep. 

When she awoke the next day, the weather had cleared up and the sun was out again. Last night’s encounter felt unreal in the bright sunshine. But, she sensed a change within her. She felt ready to come out of the closet, to reveal her identity to the world. Whatever the consequences of that were, she was ready to face them. 

She hummed about the kitchen, opening the window to let in the cool morning air. She didn’t notice the vivid blue eyes that followed her every moment from behind the big oak tree in the backyard. 

His plan had been set in motion. Soon, she would be his completely and there could be nothing to stop them from rising to power. 

“The timer on the human apocalypse has begun,” he murmurs to himself, a smile spreading across his charismatic face. 

*****

==>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.

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Vipil Written by Vipin Chopal

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Shraddha’s story’s cover pic courtesy: Tertia Van Rensburg

 

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