Chapter 8:

Shaikuma's Curse Part 2

The Mildpowered Virgins of Novylion High


‘I’d like you to know me too, Umito. I know you won’t talk to me or look at me but you can listen to me. Please, at least, listen to me.’

Umito nodded, still looking terrified.

‘You are truly kind, young captain. I will begin: I was born… I was born, I am told, as a consequence of my parents performing the unspeakable ritual. You may think that it is a lost art, but deep in the jungles of the West, there are still a few tribes that keep the tradition alive. No matter how tirelessly the dogs of the Archemperor, the Talbot Corps, work, they will never disappear. I was born in those jungles, although my parents weren’t from there and had travelled far to seek this knowledge. I do not know where they were originally from. I am not that different from you. Just like you or anyone else, I don’t remember the first three years of my life. Thus, I do not know why my progenitors performed the ritual. I do not know their faces or their names. And I am told that they died horribly. My father’s body was found completely skinned and my mother was mutilated indescribably. Nobody knows who killed them but what I do know, from instinct alone, is that the killer was not human.

‘I can only guess the reasons but the results of their actions I am too painfully aware of. I was born possessed by Shaikuma, the Demon Bear. I did not have a name. A mere mortal body is not capable of bearing a name in addition to the Bear’s. The Bear has the power to place curses on people.’

‘……’

‘I understand your trepidation. But there is nothing to fear. All the curses the Bear can place in my lifetime have been paid for by the deaths of my parents and many others. The one being cursed suffers nothing except the curse itself. My first memories are of small villages at the edges of those jungles. A man called Chulu took care of me in those days and we never stayed in the same place but the places we did stay at were always . My siddhī was being used by mysterious men whom I had never met. Chulu, my guardian, would receive instructions carried by pigeons and he would feed me a herbal mixture, which would put me in a trance and bring out Shaikuma. Shaikuma would then place a curse according to the instructions. So many men and women and children were killed or crippled or had their lives ruined. I cannot even count the number of times it happened. My memories of my trances are fuzzy and I do not remember any details but I know what the Bear has done. He is a true demon. Every time I went into a trance, he would appear in front of me. And not always alone. I’ve seen feasts of human flesh. I’ve smelled the rotting of my own corpse, and felt it be devoured bit by bit by ants and maggots.

‘This continued until I was seven years old. That was when Chulu made a mistake. It was too frightening what Shaikuma did to him. Maybe it wasn’t as torturous as what happened to my parents but I witnessed every second of Chulu’s death. I cannot talk about it. He was a vulgar man but he did not deserve what happened to him. Or maybe he did. I do not know.

‘After Chulu’s death, the residents of the village we were staying in at the time wanted to leave me in the jungle at the mercy of the tigers but an old woman – I do not remember her name – took pity on me and took me to an orphanage in a nearby town. It was run by the Isekami sect but the people there were hardly educated. They did not understand the significance of the name Shaikuma. The town was too remote and priests from the sect rarely came to visit. No one knew about my siddhī and I experienced a peaceful life for the first time. To someone like you, who’s grown up with loving parents in a nice house and attended a nice school, the life I lived in the orphanage might have seemed harsh and cruel. But as long as I didn’t have to see Shaikuma, I was happy.

‘But two years later, a boy the same age as me was taken in by the orphanage. His name was Ashu. Ashu was my first friend. We really hit it off. While all the other children were rude and violent, Ashu was always calm and friendly. But he was never happy. I asked him one day why he was sad all the time. It had been two months then since he came to the orphanage. He told me that his parents had died quite recently. I asked him if he missed them. To my surprise, he said no. He said that his father beat him every day and his mother made him work in the fields and cook food while she lounged around all day. One day he ran away from home and came across a man in a grey robe sitting under a tree. The man said that he would grant any one wish that Ashu made. And Ashu wished for his parents to die. The man merely smiled and told Ashu to go back home.

‘Ashu did not want to go back home but something about the strange man’s words compelled him to. When he got there, he found that his parents, and their entire flock of livestock had been mauled by a pack of hungry wolves.

‘I cried when I heard this. But Ashu said I shouldn’t feel sad for him. His wish had come true and he was happy. I asked him why he was sad then. He said that he was sad because he knew now that he would soon go to hell. He did not know how he knew but he knew. The same way that I always knew. I asked him if I could do something for him. He said he wanted to see hell before he went there to be prepared. I giggled and said, “There is no hell or heaven, you fool. All the bad things are always here, always around. There is nothing except this. No other world. Most people choose to ignore it but some people, like us, know it. When you die, they don’t let you escape to anywhere as nice as hell. They feed on you.”Bookmark here


‘But Ashu would not budge. He insisted that hell existed and that I should help him see it. I had had no taste of civilised society back then and, moreover, I was only a child. I did not know that all of this was improper. I only knew that my only friend in the world was asking for my help and nothing else. So that night, in our little dorm where only he and I slept, I called upon Shaikuma to help me help Ashu. Bookmark here

‘Shaikuma came all too gladly and he was greatly amused when I told him about Ashu’s request. He instructed me to stay awake while Ashu slept and not take my eyes off him till the clock struck 3.33 am. I did as I was told and, at the appointed time, I heard a rustling noise. Ashu woke up immediately and started staring at the wall behind me. I turned to see what he was staring at and I found that the wall had disappeared. In its place was our little room reflected. Like a giant mirror had been put in place of the wall. But it wasn’t a reflection. It was actually there. And on the bed was sleeping another Ashu. He was paler than porcelain and he was tossing and turning. I could hardly catch my breath and my heart felt like it would give out. The fake Ashu slowly woke up and sat on the bed. He looked at the real Ashu and smiled. Both of them stared at each other for an entire minute. And for that minute I could not breathe. I was suffocating. The air was being pulled out of my lungs. Yet I could not move. Just as I was about to faint, the fake Ashu went back to sleep and a blackness covered my eyes. It went away after ten seconds and then I saw that the room was back to normal. For the first time, I heard Ashu laugh that night. He thanked me and said that I was a true friend. He said he looked forward to going to hell. Exhausted, we both fell asleep. The next morning, I woke up but Ashu didn’t. He was in a coma. Bookmark here

‘He was taken to a hospital but he wouldn’t wake up, even though he was completely healthy. From that night onward, dozens of people in the town started seeing the same nightmares. The first night, they saw a child about nine years of age kicking a dog. The next night, the child was brutally beating the dog to death. The night after that, he killed a pig. This pattern continued until one night, they all saw the child murdering their respective families. Terror gripped the town. Bookmark here

‘After a few days, an investigator from Talbot Corps arrived. It didn’t take long to figure out who the child from the nightmare was. Some more digging around led the investigator to me, his best and only friend. The moment he heard my name he froze and restrained me quickly, much like this dog you see before you. Ashu and I were locked in cages that very night and we were loaded with the animal cargo on an old steamer. The ship took one week to get here to Port Shōripur. I did not know where I was going and what was going to happen to me. The investigator fed me and changed Ashu’s drip and catheter and so on once a day. Ashu was still comatose and at night all the animals in the ship howled and screamed in pain. Bookmark here

‘At the monastery in Port Shōripur, Ashu and I were kept captive for a year. Many dogs from the Talbot Corps came to see us and did experiments on Shaikuma. He did not like that. He killed at least three dogs and maimed five others. And I suffered so, so much. Every night I saw the “hell” that Ashu talked about. It took this old man who’s tied me up to tame the Bear. He was smart enough to not go for Shaikuma directly. Ashu’s body had withered in the one year we were at the monastery. No amount of medical care would stop the deterioration. He pursued Ashu through his dreams and tamed him first. Until then, Ashu had never appeared in my dreams but then he started doing so every single night. And he never did anything and never talked to me or even looked at me, no matter how loud I shouted or how violently I shook him. Bookmark here

‘Then, one day, it happened all of a sudden. A bunch of dogs showed up, led by this one and they all read out their chants and it felt like both Shaikuma and I were being whipped with steel chains and being buried alive at the same time. Ashu’s presence grew larger and larger in my head. I felt losing my feet first. All sensation left them and Ashu’s feet wore mine like shoes. Then my legs went away as he put them on like a pair of pants. Then my torso, then my arms and so on. Within ten minutes, I couldn’t even scream out loud. My body was Ashu’s and I was locked inside him somewhere, and Shaikuma inside me. Bookmark here

‘And Ashu was no longer the Ashu I knew. He was “Ashukami”, a boot-licking servant of the Isekami sect. The Ashukami you both know. I can perceive the world through his senses but I cannot control anything. He never talks to me. He never acknowledges me. And he calls me a demon in front of others. He has never even addressed me. I live alone inside him with nobody to listen to me. I do not resent the dogs for limiting Shaikuma’s powers. For that, in fact, I thank them. I do not resent them for making me a prisoner for life. My entire existence is a curse upon this earth. I deserve worse.Bookmark here

‘I resent them for killing my friend. For burning his body after trapping him in mine so that he may never escape. For brainwashing him. For making him hate me. If I could only get my friend back, I’d take all the Bear’s curses upon myself.’Bookmark here

I couldn’t help but cry. I don’t know if any of what S said was true, but his feelings sure were. I just knew it. Bookmark here

‘Ah, it’s time for your curse, Puna,’ he said. The sky was pitch black. The moon and the stars were hidden. Umito had turned on the boat’s inbuilt light. We were an island of light and calm between the dark sea in turmoil. ‘My time with you today is over. But I hope to see you again someday. Maybe we’ll be able to talk then as equals, and not about so sad a story.’ Bookmark here

‘I wouldn’t mind that,’ I said.Bookmark here

‘Thank you. You’ve given me the means to fight back. It’s something the dogs will never figure out,’ he said. ‘Now, let’s begin. But before we do, I must explain the properties of the curse that’s going to be placed on you. The dogs have severely limited the Bear’s power. He can now only place a curse on someone who agrees to be cursed. The contents of the curse may only be decided by Ashukami Momokani. The curse cannot bring bodily harm of any kind to anyone. The curse cannot break the physical laws of the universe. The curse cannot prevent things that are bound to happen from happening. The person being cursed must not wish for the curse’s outcome. The statement of the curse must fall under multiple restrictions specified using formal logic. The most important of these restrictions is that the curse cannot be framed as a negation. The others will take too long to explain and your curse falls within the permissible set of statements. And, the biggest limit on the Bear’s power: the curse only works fifty percent of the time.’ Bookmark here

‘So all of this might have been for nothing?’Bookmark here

‘Yes. But it’s too late to worry about that now. That is all from me. See you around.’ Bookmark here

Mr Handler started reading from his book again. S lost consciousness. He looked like he was in even more pain than when his ropes were being tightened around him. Then, whatever woke up in S’s place terrified me to my core. The moment he looked at me, my eyes rolled into the back of my head and everything went black. Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

When I woke up, I was lying on a cot in a dusty room filled with boating gear and an old beat-up car. Umito was sitting beside me on a chair. No one else was there.Bookmark here

‘Where are we?’ I asked.Bookmark here

‘Mano-ji’s garage,’ said Umito. ‘I think we’ll have to stay here tonight. The storm doesn’t look like it’s going to calm down anytime soon.’ Bookmark here

His point was highlighted by a loud clap of thunder. Bookmark here

‘What happened after… the Bear woke up?’ I asked.Bookmark here

‘I don’t know. Both of you just stared at each other for a minute and then you fell asleep. Then… the Bear… fell asleep and Ashukami woke up and the elderly gentleman untied him. The waves were really big while we were coming back. You’re lucky I was in control of the ship. Even the loud sounds of the waves crashing against the hull wouldn’t wake you up. We both had to carry you here. Ashukami insisted on going home and I couldn’t make him stay. Well, the monastery isn’t too far so I bet he’s alright. Don’t forget to thank Mano-ji in the morning for letting you stay here. He’s asleep right now.’Bookmark here

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Was the curse placed successfully?’ Bookmark here

‘Yes. You don’t remember anything about the Bear, do you?’Bookmark here

‘No. Nothing. The only thing I remember is his eyes. How he placed the curse on me or how he communicated to me, I have no idea.’Bookmark here

‘Good. Ashukami said that you should tell him if anything related to that comes back into your memories or shows up in your dreams.’Bookmark here

‘I’ll keep that in mind.’ Bookmark here

‘There’s one more thing.’Bookmark here

‘What?’Bookmark here

‘Something S said is really troubling me.’Bookmark here

‘It looked like everything he said was troubling you.’Bookmark here

‘It was, but one thing stood out. I just felt that it meant something. What did he mean when he said that you gave him “the means to fight back?”’Bookmark here

‘I don’t know.’Bookmark here

‘Hmm.’Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The next morning, Ashukami didn’t come to school. Jajanshu was wearing the wrong uniform again. This time around, he was wearing the sports uniform. He said that he didn't know that you have to change into the class uniform after coming back from morning sports practice. It made him look even more like a girl, since the sports uniform is the same for both boys and girls in our school. Shorts and a t-shirt.
Bookmark here

Umito and I told the entire story about the Bear and everything to Tan, who listened carefully and didn’t interrupt once. Umito asked Tan the same thing he had asked me the night before. About the meaning of ‘the means to fight back’.Bookmark here

‘Isn’t it obvious?’ said Tan.Bookmark here

‘Isn’t to me,’ I said.Bookmark here

‘Me neither,’ said Umito. Bookmark here

‘He said that the people from Talbot Corps won’t figure it out. That means it was something that slipped the handler’s notice. And yours too, apparently.’Bookmark here

‘What?’ I asked.Bookmark here

‘You gave him a name,’ said Tan. Bookmark here

‘Who?’Bookmark here

‘S. He said he’d never had a name. And you gave him one.’Bookmark here

‘S is just an initial for the Demon Bear’s name.’ Bookmark here

‘But you never specified that. It could be interpreted as E-S-S instead of the letter S for all he’s concerned.’Bookmark here

‘You’re a smart guy, Tan. But I think that’s far-fetched. Mr Handler would’ve noticed something like that. Or it must not have been important,’ I said.Bookmark here

‘Perhaps,’ said Tan. ‘What curse did you decide upon finally?’Bookmark here

‘We’d discussed it after school was over.’Bookmark here

‘Oh. I wish I were there. But my father was in a hurry yesterday.’Bookmark here

‘Yeah. Well, I couldn’t just ask for my tongue to be purified of profanity because that would be wishing for the curse’s outcome. So a penalty was needed.’Bookmark here

‘Hagesh suggested that his pee-pee should get shorter by an inch if he swears even once during the next seven days,’ Umito chimed in.Bookmark here

‘But that would break the bodily harm rule and I vetoed it anyways,’ I said. ‘Lots of other penalties were discussed but, finally, Jajanshu suggested something even scarier than shortening my manhood.’Bookmark here

‘What was it?’ asked Tan. Bookmark here

‘If I swear even once during this week, I will have to call every female teacher in our school “mommy” for a year.’Bookmark here

Tan smiled a smile that looked truly happy. His usual smile, I always feel, is tinged with sadness. Bookmark here

Bookmarked
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