Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Written by Malvika Nath
It was almost midnight and time was of the essence. As it was, I was already on strike two, and I shuddered to imagine the fate that would befall me if I failed to complete my task again. The note I received in the mail promised dire consequences if the demands were not met by tonight. I had managed to sneak out of my room undetected, but that was just phase one of my plan. I still had a long way to go, and I wasn’t sure if I could make it in time. Clutching the documents tight against my chest, I quickened my pace.
The light above the SBI flickered as I snuck past it and crept up behind the buses. It was eerily quiet this time of night; the silence was only broken by the occasional hoot of an owl. There was not a single soul in sight, and why would there be? Curfew had been imposed, and the in-time rules had gotten stricter— being caught outside late at night was a crime punishable by untold horrors. Despite knowing this, tonight I risked it all for a mission that could make or break my future. For I feared the man who sent me the note more than I feared the curfew.
I had dressed suitably for this job— covered from head to toe in black clothing, and with my hood drawn up, it was impossible to discern me from the shadows. Cloaked in darkness, I moved swiftly, my eyes scanning the ground to prevent me from stepping on things that would announce my arrival. These included twigs, crunchy leaves, and more importantly, dog poop. It would be a pity if the security could smell me before they saw me.
In a distance, I could hear the shrill whistle of the security guards walking the perimeter in an attempt to keep rogues like me away. Did they really think that the whistle scared us off? That slamming their Lathis made them invincible? The only thing it did was tip me off about their location, ergo I knew which areas to avoid. This made everything so much easier than expected. The security was merely trained to scare the novices into staying indoors past curfew, I, however, was accomplished in the arts of lawbreaking and thus undeterred by their tactics.
With the lawns deserted, the easy route would leave me extremely exposed. Thus, as my current mission demanded maximum discretion, I opted for the road less traveled. The further I moved away from the main road, the darker it got. My senses heightened to compensate for the dimming streetlights, and it was due to this very reason that I picked up on the presence of another being nearby. My stomach plummeted when I heard rustling in the bushes behind me. I was being followed, I realized. My route had been strategized to avoid security guards, but I had not anticipated this. What did they want from me? Did they also receive the note? It was dawning closer to midnight and with desperation getting the best of me, I broke off into a sprint, zigzagging around trees to throw them off my trail.
With adrenaline fueling my muscles, I managed to make it a few hundred meters before my body screamed for a break. Unfortunately, I could still hear soft rustling behind me attesting to my follower still in pursuit. As I slowed down to catch my breath, I noticed two guards chatting distractedly by the end of the road. I skidded to a halt. From the frying pan, into the fire it seemed.
Cornered and looking for an escape, I dove into the bushes with my cat-like reflexes. It was only then that I realized my “follower” was actually two feet tall and ran on all fours. No one had warned me about the penalty of hypervigilance— paranoia. I stroked his head as I contemplated my next move. It was now 23:54. The clock was ticking, and with each passing second, my heart rate sped up even more. Refusing to give up, I made my way crouching behind bushes, and passed the guards, even resorting to an army crawl at one point. Finally, with two minutes to spare, I reached the given drop-off location.
Residential buildings loomed in front of me. I could make out a silhouette under the streetlights pacing back and forth. Upon my arrival, he stopped and turned.
“You almost missed the deadline. Again.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “Well? Do you have it?”
Silently, I unzipped my leather jacket and pulled out a folder.
“My Fluid Mechanics lab manual. Right on time, sir.”