|THE NIGHT THAT BECAME 4745 by Ashwin Dayal
There are some things in this world that everybody fears. But everyone knows they are real, they exist. You cover your heads with your blankets thinking of the ghosts and monsters. But fear is just excitement. Fear is one of those things that you have never experienced. You know those things would not ever touch you. That is the graveyard shift at the GRAVEYARD.
Nate knew what it felt like to stay at the place which was feared by all, for ten hours in a day. He always wore his grey t-shirt and black pants. He never really changed clothes at home as he fell on the sofa every day as he came back home, fast asleep before you could count to three. This was his daily routine. Go to the graveyard at 1 a.m. and come back at 11 a.m. But that night of May 29th 1995, this routine was broken.
It was a gloomy night, not that any other night was any better, but that night was sad. More than sadness was the feeling of fear that lurked around the graveyard. Nate had seen dark nights but this, this was black.
That night was the first time Nate had fallen asleep while on duty. He dreamed, a strange dream indeed...
He was in the graveyard, sitting exactly where he was sitting in reality. He saw a corpse in front of him and he just kept staring at it. The corpse then let out a long, deep cry of pain. Then again and again and again. He looked around himself, there was no one.
He looked back at the body only it wasn’t there anymore. Instead he saw a shadow. The shadow of a figure coming close to him slowly and steadily. Though he could not see the man’s face, he saw a smile curving on his face. And Nate knew one thing for sure, it was not a smile of happiness. It was the smile of evil. Nate froze. He couldn’t turn, he just couldn’t. The hair at the back of his neck stood up. The shadow of the man’s arm was just about to close around his neck. The arm got closer and closer and...
He woke up suddenly and sat up straight.
Oh, my dear God.
A body lay in front of him. Nate could see that the man was almost fifty years old. Older than Nate, he was forty one. He had clearly been beaten badly. There was blood everywhere on his body. But his face, that was what horrified Nate. His nose was beaten to a curve and his cheeks had cuts that no doctor could count. His eyebrows had almost been erased. His eyes were wide open.
Dear God, what should I do?
He touched the man’s wrist for a pulse. The man’s eyes met with Nate’s.
“Old friend,” the body muttered in a very low tone.
Then he felt as though he had received an electric shock and he immediately withdrew his hand. That was when everything changed.
The body of the fifty-year-old man changed to a young man of almost thirty. The face was changed, the body was not all bloody like the older one. There was a clean stab at the man’s left abdomen.
Nate then heard what he had feared. The last thing a man in a position like his would want to hear. He knew he was doomed. Police sirens. A police car parked right outside the gate of the graveyard. A man came out of the car but Nate could not make out his face at all.
“Sir, I know what this looks like but I have nothing to do with this. Nothing at all. I don’t know what just happened. Believe me.”
“Well, I don’t know how it happened but I know what happened.”
“Sir please, you have to believe me. I did not kill this man. I don’t even know who he is.”
“Give all your damn explanations at the Court. But for now, you are under arrest for murder.”
Nate could then see the man clearly. He wore a white mask. The man had clearly been wearing this mask for a long time because there was a little dirt at the sides. Through the mask only his eyes were visible. Before he could say anything else, he felt dizzy and then he fainted.
“Wake up. Wake up, Nate Cape!” a deep voice commanded.
Nate woke up. After so long someone had used his full name. Only his teachers at school called him like that.
“Nate Cape, you are here in the presence of Caras de Tod. Today you will be judged.”
There were twelve masked figures in front of him. Their masks were like that of the officer who had arrested him, only there was a slight difference. The officer had dirt on his mask, these people had blood on their masks. He could see their feet as they were sitting, bare feet, and their palms, which faced him as if in surrender. And from their hands and feet, blood was dripping.
“Nate Cape, you have lived your life and committed so many crimes. Today the Decision will be made. And then it shall be decided what your fate would be Redemption or Death... But first you will be introduced to the Caras de Tod. I am Primis,” said the man who was sitting in the left most corner of the Court. Nate knew that this was Latin as Primis in Latin meant first. And in this way, all the men introduced themselves.
Finally, the masked man sitting in the rightmost corner of the room said,
“I am Duodecimus. Now speak! All you want in your defence.” Twelfth.
But he did not know what to say. He didn’t know where he was or who these people were but if by speaking he could go from this place, he would do it.
“I was doing my duty...”
“Did anyone ask you to speak?!” shouted Quartus, the fourth.
“I was as... asked to speak by you... you yourself.”
“You were asked to speak! Why are you not obeying?” roared Septima, the seventh.
“Enough! You have spoken enough, Nate Cape,” said Primis. “The Decision is not made. Your fate is yet to be decided. You will be taken to your cell.”
The policeman who had arrested him had been standing with his hands at his sides just behind Nate. As soon as the sentence finished, the policeman got hold of Nate’s hands and held them tightly. Then he pulled Nate back with a jerk and took him to a cage, swung open the metallic door and threw him on the rock floor. And as his head hit the floor, the last sound he heard was that of the metal door being closed, then he lost consciousness.
“Wake up, lad. It’s been too long,” said a voice. And those words rang in Nate’s ears. He woke up with a start.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Jim. I am also a prisoner here like you. You can trust me; I am not any freer than you are. What’s your name?”
Looking at Jim, Nate had a feeling, a strange feeling.
I have seen this man. I have met him somewhere. I just don’t remember.
“Have we met somewhere? I seem to remember your face.”
“Not any memory of that in my mind. I don’t seem to recall.”
Nate dismissed the matter. He had a feeling that he could trust this man.
“It’s Nate. What is this place?”
“I’m afraid I have no idea about that, lad. To tell the truth, nobody does.”
“Who are these people?”
“I know that they call themselves the Caras de Tod. Caras in Spanish means faces. De means of and Tod in German means Death. So, it is actually the Faces of Death.”
“They are just so strange. One of them first asked me to speak and then the other snapped at me like I had stolen their money. They seem to be mad.”
“That’s right, man. They are mad-men. They really are. They think of themselves as the ones who decide where a man is destined to go, Heaven or Hell. Though there has been no one who has been sentenced to Heaven, they know how to give Hell. They were a lot more polite to you than they have ever been to anyone else. They beat me on the back until I cried for mercy, the first time I came here. Everyone’s Decision the first time on the First Trial is undecided.”
“Do they let anyone out of here?”
“Yes, after twelve years. Every year each Caras beats you to hell and calls that the Lesson. After twelve lessons, that is twelve years, your Decision will be made. Half of the people who leave this place have forgotten how to speak when they come out. And those who do remember this place and open their mouths outside are called ridiculous.
“I have to tell you, Nate. This place is weird. It is ugly. These people have strange rituals that summon demons and monsters. They can travel in time. You saw the policeman? They have turned him mad too. Sometimes he can be extremely friendly but he can give you hell on one of those fits of his. They are mad-men but they are dangerous. They pick anyone up. They will set you up for killing a person they have actually beaten to death. You saw the blood on their hands and feet, right? They have done that to each other. I have been here long and I have seen people. Strange people, the likes you would have never seen before. Things that we dismiss as fantasy work for them. This is my last year here. I don’t know what I will get. You don’t know these people, they will call it Redemption and then when you try to walk out they will kill you. My days here are about to come to an end, sooner or later. My Decision will be made in a few months, it may even be a few days. And I can confidently say that my time here was not at all happy. The bruises I have are not only from the Caras. I don’t like to scare you but I hope you come out quickly too. I really do hope. Anyway, they like you already.”
So, the day ended as Nate and Jim kept talking and they didn’t even realize that it was one a.m.
“Does anyone have a phone over here? Has anybody ever tried to contact someone?” Nate asked.
Jim looked at Nate as though he was not speaking their language. He was about to say something when they heard footsteps.
“Shh… Someone is coming,” Jim whispered.
The metal door opened with a bang and the policeman came into the cage.
“You should rejoice, Sammy. The Court has made the Decision. You will have Redemption as your fate. A close shave. Thanks to this new friend of yours. It was Death before he came. They were happy with him,” the policeman said to Jim.
Jim looked at Nate with wide eyes and then back at the policeman.
“Man, before I go, I would like to spend some time with this young lad. Do this one for me. I won’t ever come back here,” Jim said.
The policeman frowned but granted Jim his wish. He waited outside the cell.
“Nate, I know we did not get to spend a lot of time together, but I want to tell you one thing. Remember what I said and also that you don’t have to find out where you are, it’s when you are. Thank you and goodbye, old friend. I might as well be dead by the time you get out of here.”
Nate did not say anything. He just smiled.
He smiled as he bid farewell to Jim and smiling, he spent the next thirteen years.
Undecided, undecided, undecided...
The first time Nate saw sunlight was after thirteen years, lying in the graveyard.
Redemption for you, Nate Cape.
It was afternoon. He looked around. No change. He had been gone for thirteen long years and nothing had changed. There lay Mr. Baker’s grave untouched beside Mr. Lee’s.
God, don’t tell me it was a dream.
He saw a person walking his way.
“Excuse me, sir?” Nate said politely to the man.
“It might seem odd that I’m asking you, but what year is it?”
“May 30th 1995.”
You don’t have to find out where you are, it’s when you are.
“Is there anyone by the name of Jim living around here?”
“Well, lucky for you there is only one Jim living around here. Mr. Jim Wale.”
“Where can I find him?”
“Right up that building,” the man said pointing to the tall apartment Nate recognized as West Apartments.
He rang the bell at the door on which was written in golden letters: JIM WALE. He rang the bell again. He heard footsteps. The door opened.
And there in front of him stood the same tall figure with blonde hair of Jim. Not any Jim Hale. He didn’t know any Jim Hale. His friend Jim.
“Dear God, it is you!” Jim said.
“Please tell me, Jim, on the off chance that you are taking me for someone else, it wasn’t a dream,” Nate asked as he sat on the couch in Jim’s house.
“It was not.”
“So, you were the corpse?”
“Um... I do not think that is a memory shared by us.”
“Of course, it is not. So, all that, that was back in 1982? We met in 1982?”
“I’m afraid, yes.”
“The Caras, they took me back in time? They took me to 1982 from 1995?”
“That is the only thing that makes sense.”
“They still exist?”
“No idea about that.”
“Jim, is that policeman still alive?”
“Cher? Oh yes, he is still alive. He is in a hospital for the mentally ill. An insane asylum.”
“Oh God. What was his part in all this, after all?”
“He is not dead yet. What do you say, Nate, should we meet him?”
So, they went to the town’s insane asylum. Guided by a man named Greg, Jim and Nate stood at the gates of a huge hall.
“All of them are in there. I cannot go in there with you because they all get agitated when they see any of the workers.”
Jim and Nate walked together. Cells were to their left and right. Walking on that path, Nate felt colder than he had ever felt on any of his night shifts at the graveyard. It was as if the prisoners inside were breathing fear. Or maybe caged animals would be a better term. Everyone rotting in these cages had committed some terrible sin, some horrible crime. And they knew that. They were insane, not dumb. Maybe they would allow you to hit them all you want and they would sit there quietly. But they wouldn’t allow you to get away with it. They wouldn’t take a beating. They would retaliate, they would make you weep for mercy, for sure.
These thoughts of his were shattered when the iron bar of one of the cages clattered violently. The inmate said with a grin, holding the bars.
“Let me out, sir, and I will make a deal. Give a penny, just a penny and lo and behold! You will have that lottery you have been craving for so long. First you will have to get me out of here.”
“Sure, remind me tomorrow when I come back,” Jim said with such seriousness that for a second Nate thought he might not be playing with him.
“That is a done deal, sir! Nice doing business with you,” the inmate said with a childlike excitement.
They moved forward when Nate heard something. He looked at Jim and understood from the look of his face that he had heard it too.
“Nate... He was the one from the beginning. He had always been the key. Nate... Oh yes, he was the one...” someone was murmuring.
They found the cell from which the sound was coming. They saw that inside the cell, a man was sitting with his back to them. He continued murmuring.
“Cher?” Jim said.
The man looked over his back and his eyes first caught Jim. As soon as he saw Nate standing beside him, he burst out laughing with bloodshot eyes.
“Nate... Nate was the key! Nate was Him!” he shouted, still laughing.
Oh God. No, not again.
There was a piece of shattered glass lying beside him and blood was dripping from his feet and his hands which he suddenly clapped to his mouth. Then without any warning, he came limping towards them but extremely fast and gripped the bars of the cage with his bloody hands, his feet making marks everywhere he walked.
“Cher, tell us what happened to them, the Caras de Tod. Are they still alive?” Jim asked.
“The heart… the heart of the Caras de Tod was broken. Shattered.”
“What happened there?” Nate asked.
“Nate Cape left. He did not know he was the key. All the Caras liked him but Quartus did not. No, no chance. He worshipped Nate like the others.”
Worshipped. Oh Almighty, so I was a ……
“So, Nate was a God for the Caras?” Jim asked.
“More than a God! Nate was Him!”
“Cher, who is ‘Him’?”
“Him, the Ultor. The Punisher. The One who gave birth to the Caras. The Caras were misguided fools when the Ultor chose them. He gave them their Judgement. The Caras were assigned the noble task of making the Decision for misguided souls and giving them a path like the Ultor did for them. Then Nate came. The Caras thought Nate was an incarnation of the Ultor, in disguise so as to check whether they were performing their duties properly. But Quartus did not feel so.”
“Then what happened?”
“Quartus feels Nate should get Death. But the others feel not the same. They feel Nate is Ultor, so he shall get what he wants, Redemption. Quartus wanted to bruise Nate to Death but before, the other Caras kill Quartus and then they all...”
Cher started laughing madly and started beating his head on the bars.
“So, they killed themselves after all,” Nate said to Jim as they sat back on Jim’s couch.
“The best part is that you were their God,” grinned Jim.
“But I don’t understand one thing, Jim. Why me? Why did they choose me?”
Jim kept quiet.
“I guess there was a reason they chose me. I was leading a miserable life. I had no friends. At least, not true ones. They hurt me but I think that was worth it. They gave me a friend, a true friend,” Nate said.
“Maybe you were meant to save my life. ... And what was that when you called me a corpse? Man, that hurt,” Jim said.
“That is indeed a long story.”
It was one a.m. and the two friends sat talking all night like they did 4745 nights ago.