Déjà vu

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Have you ever felt like you are experiencing the exact same thing for the second time? Will you do things differently the second time if you find out it has already happened once before? Read on to find what actually happened with Aashna.

Part-I

‘Déjà vu’ whispered a voice in Aashna’s head, as she stared at what was in front of her. She had googled Déjà vu just a few days back, when it was brought up in a discussion between friends. ‘Déjà vu: a feeling of having already experienced the present situation’ whispered the voice again; that smoky, raspy voice in her head that she was so familiar with. Aashna stood frozen to the spot, as her adrenaline burned and her muscles tensed.

Today morning greeted her with the same dull grey sky that had been invariably present since last week. Soon the sky yawned and unleashed torrents of rain that went on and on upon the city. So gloomy. But Aashna didn’t let the weather bog down her spirit. She dressed up as colorful as always, and left for breakfast at exactly 8 am. She hated being late.

At the breakfast table, she placed her steaming poached eggs on the table with a flourish. She loved the way her poached eggs turned out, almost always better than what her mom made. “Mom can make ‘the best’ anything, except poached eggs.” she thought wryly. As she ate at the table, she pondered yet again about the empty chairs facing her. Theirs was a quiet family, a small family of three, with everyone busy in their own lives. Her dad was a businessman, whose only thoughts were to network and expand what he already had. Her mom ran her own cafe, a small but wildly popular business. And Aashna herself was a final year journalism student, busy with her assignments, internships, drama classes and her blogging. She loved her life because it was breezy, and the few milestones she faced had been successfully overcome with the help of her cherished friends. She was privileged and she knew it, but that didn’t keep her from taking care of the less privileged- namely, street and abandoned animals.

Finishing her breakfast, she looked at her watch. “Ahh, I’m early. A few extra minutes of peace today”. With a smile she went to sit on her favourite chair on the balcony, overlooking the magnificent sea, to soak in the peace before she left to join in the chaos of the world. Soon she snapped out of her thoughts and left for her college. On the way, Coldplay crooned “Fix You” and the rain poured on and she sang along as she drove.

Though Aashna enjoyed her classes, she was imagining the taste of the ‘elaichi chai’ from her canteen. “A rainy day needs elaichi chai”, she thought decisively as she made her way to the canteen for a cup. She had friends, but she never really grew close with them. Aashna liked to think of herself as an island. Trudging back to her classes alone, she was lost in thought about her plans for tonight.

The 6 o’clock bell was accompanied by cheers and sighs of relief coming from all around Aashna. Aashna swiftly looked at the skies as she stepped out- nope, still not clear. Instead the rain seemed to fall with a vengeance now, as if to prevent her from fulfilling her plans. She gave an irritated eye-roll to the heavens above. “Nice try, but this isn’t enough to stop me”. Sitting in the car, she planted the GPS coordinates for the location she promised herself to check out tonight. It was an old and crumbling fort on the outskirts of the city, hardly an hour’s drive away from her college. The fort was special because it gave the perfect backdrop for a movie she was planning to direct- stories surrounding a monument. Her project was personal for now, depending on the finished product she planned to enter into the Indian Film Project next year. The location scouting had been on for a week now, and finally today she would see this fort by night, a crucial time in a few scenes in her story. She nodded to herself firmly, and started her car..

“This has to be wrong, how is it taking so much time?” Aashna asked herself. Her internet had stopped working, but she had taken screenshots of the route. But since there was no live GPS she figured she must have taken a wrong route somewhere. The sky was finally turning black so she decided to turn back. It would be dinnertime by the time she reached home. Disappointed, she turned back, when a colossal flash of lightning lit up the landscape behind her, and there it was. Standing in stark contrast, a dark and mighty structure that had long fallen, its ruins still gave a sense of grandeur to the spectator. Aashna cheered. She had driven the right way! She turned back again, drove to the fort and parked her car. Grabbing her raincoat and torchlight, she went in to look around. The fort, or whatever was left of it, was surprisingly stable. She went around for a little while, her mind creating sets and backdrops for scenes while her eyes flitted between her watch and the fort. Soon she had looked around enough to be satisfied. There was finally one location they could start shooting in. She came out of the fort to…an empty street. There was no sign of her car. She panicked immediately, looking around for her car, running down the street, but it had simply vanished. Her keys and torch were the only belongings she had with her. She cursed herself for forgetting her phone in the car, as was her usual habit. As the adrenaline started to doe down, fear started to creep in. She was lost in the woods, not knowing how to get back home. There was not a soul around that she could see… just like all those years ago.

‘Déjà vu’ whispered a voice in Aashna’s head, as she stared at the black nothingness in front of her. She had googled Déjà vu just a few days back, when it was brought up in a discussion between friends. ‘Déjà vu: a feeling of having already experienced the present situation’ whispered the voice again, that smoky, raspy voice in her head that she was so familiar with. Aashna stood frozen to the spot, as her adrenaline burned and her muscles tensed.

Part-II

The storm carried on relentlessly as Aashna stood frozen to the spot. She swept her eyes around the lonely road and the forest right next to it. The prevailing darkness was broken by a few rare bursts of lightning. One such burst gave her the sudden awareness that she had been in this situation before. She could summon up the memories more clearly now, as if she was seeing herself in third person. She had seen the towers of this fort from far within the forest, illuminated by the lightning from a storm, even as she walked tacitly toward it, her eyes darting all around her. Something big had happened, right here in the middle of this forest. She trembled as she walked the next few steps, terrified to her bones and not fully understanding why.

As Aashna kept walking she realized that time wasn’t passing fast enough. She wasn’t sure if it was fear or something else that made the minutes stretch like hours and the hours stretch like days. But she kept walking, in spite of being certain that she was hopelessly lost and that she would not get back home tonight. Suddenly she heard a heavy, dragging sound coming from a little far away. She wanted to call out but what if it turned out to be an animal? “Better not risk it” she thought. “Let me follow the sound and see for myself where it is coming from.” As she kept walking she realized the forest getting denser. Whoever was making that sound was actually taking her deeper into the forest. The sound itself was sporadic, and it was getting harder for Aashna to keep up with it while sticking to the shadows.

Unexpectedly, the forest cleared out into a rather large clearing. As she realized what she saw next, it made her sick. She descried a man dragging something on the ground, something flailing its arms and legs from inside what looked like a sleeping bag. A hunter with his prey, perhaps? Aashna had never actually seen the sport in live, but she saw the end results of the sport every Saturday in the bustling markets. She deliberated whether to ask this man for help. He seemed a little crazy (after all, which hunter traps his prey in a sleeping bag?), not to mention dangerous, but she couldn’t see any other option available to her at that time. She watched as the man apprehensively opened the bag and laughed as a human-like form staggered out of it and started running- straight for Aashna. The storm coupled with the negligible light of the forest seriously impaired her vision. She prayed for a flash of lightning so she could see the face of the person running toward her, and like a gruesome joke, her prayers were answered. The whole clearing lit up with a magnificent flash of lightning and the sound of thunder that came a few seconds later provided the perfect camouflage when the man pulled the trigger. Most surprising of all was the face. Aashna watched in dumbfound horror as she saw herself fall like a puppet onto the forest floor, gunshot wound gleaming between her eyes.

Aashna stared into her own eyes for a long time, stupefied with dread. She couldn’t move her legs forward, no matter how hard she tried to give them the command. The eyes facing her were turning glassy as the last traces of life trickled out with the blood that was oozing out of her and rapidly getting washed away with the rain. She bent down to touch her dead self, to make sure it was somehow real because everything seemed like a dream right now. More like a really really horrific nightmare. As she was about to touch the bullet hole on the forehead, she felt a warm sticky fluid seeping into her clothes. The rain pouring down in sheets had mixed with the blood and was flowing toward her. She lay her hand in the running puddle and brought it out, the color of the water was red. Her face contorted with pain as she tried to think of something, anything that made sense to what she saw. The questions came in multitudes- “Am I dreaming?”, “Is this real?”, “How can I be dead?”, “What did I just see?”; cascading into her mind without any answers. Aashna looked up from her dead body and saw the man coming forward to check his handiwork. Maybe he had seen or heard Aashna-the living Aashna- and wanted to get a closer look. Aashna cowered away from the body (she still refused to believe it was her body), she didn’t want the man to see her. Aashna saw him search the body, take the car keys, leaving the torch behind and talking to himself about what he would do with the body.

She stared at her own hands, pinching herself as hard as she could. She felt the pinch, so how could she be dead? Yet those eyes stared back at her, her own eyes… Something was very wrong. She snapped out of it as the man seemed to come to a decision about how to dispose of her body. She silently watched as the man heaved the body up on his shoulders, grumbling about the rain and started to walk away. Morbid curiosity made her shadow him. She tried to walk as quietly as possible but every rustle of the bushes sounded like a death sentence. “But if he is carrying my dead body, how would he kill me again?” thought Aashna. “And if I am dead, how can I still be here?!” But no divine answers came into her mind for these questions. She tailed her assailant like a shadow, studying him from behind, trying to get as much information about him as possible.

To her surprise, they had reached the fort once again. Aashna had lost track of how long she had been walking, she was simply following the guy who had her body draped over his shoulders. She had to get to the bottom of the mystery. The man approached the fort and went in without any hesitation, like he was familiar with the place. After they went in, it became harder for her to follow him. She had to be more careful not to trip over something, and the lack of lighting didn’t help. But her companion seemed to have no difficulty in maneuvering, even while carrying a body. He was sprightly, jumping from one stair to another, knowing exactly where to put his foot as he descended into what looked like an underground room. Aashna hit her head twice, but contained herself from turning on the torch or cursing out loud. He put her body on the floor and before she even had a chance to hide, he started coming back up the stairs. She spontaneously panicked, and tried to flatten herself against the wall. As if a miracle, he didn’t notice her. “But am I not already dead? How could he see me or catch me?” she wondered as she slowly crept toward the body. She had to see for herself if it was really her. The dungeon-like room was dark, and as her eyes adjusted, she noticed figures strewn carelessly around. The rising trepidation in her mind as she realized what those carcasses meant made her forget about herself for a moment. She walked around the room, her torchlight coming across seventeen corpses, all female, all very dead. Some of the bodies were so old the flesh melted off and the bones had started to show. Aashna felt sick to her stomach; that man was a serial killer and there was nothing she could do about it. She reached the body kept nearest to the door- her body, knelt down and gently turned it over. The torchlight shone on a dead face. From hair to toenail, she saw a girl who once wanted to do so much more in the world. She saw herself. As she looked into those glassy eyes for the last time and gently touched the bullet hole on the forehead, she became aware of something pulling her back, like a thousand strings had tied themselves around her and now were pulling her back like a marionette. The torch dropped while she saw the body, her body speeding away. She felt a little nauseous as she came to terms with her own death. She closed her eyes and let the strings haul her away. Tears escaped her shut eyes as she was pulled into the uncertain beyond.

Next morning, the alarm beeped at the same time it did every day. The same pair of eyes fluttered awake, the same mouth yawned a small yawn and then groaned as the eyes glimpsed the sky through the window. The same pair of legs touched the floor and walked the body to the mirror.  “Morning sky, you can greet me with the same dull grey color that you have been flaunting since last week, but that’s not going to bog me down. I’m going location-scouting!”. Aashna thought to herself, smiling. “Today is going to be a great day.”

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