So, there’s an eclipse thing happening over North America today.
You might have heard of it. NASA is watching it closely. Americans are freaking the f*ck out, as usual. Okay, not all of them. However, the Trumpocalypse has already occurred. A good apocalypse to clean up that mess would be quite nice.
Ms. Menon is back, yo!
On one of our best-loved Tuesday Night Fiction entries, Susheela did not disappoint us with her short fiction piece Phantom Garden. I’m happy to say that story wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Ms. Menon is back with another mind-bender, Eclipse, which examines what happens when the fears of a young Indian mother collide with the various myths surrounding eclipses told to her in her youth. It’s got serpent demons. It’s got a baby in danger. It’s got suspense, scares, and genuine fright in an easy to digest flash fiction format. It seems to be a very appropriate story for the day. Enjoy!
by Susheela Menon
As the dark disc of the moon shrouded the blazing sun, Shanti panicked. She closed the curtains, covered the food and slammed the door shut before the rays of an eclipsing sun could sully her home.
She had forgotten about the window near her baby’s cot. Her child lay on it, swathed in a beam of light that seeped in from the open window. She quickly pulled it shut. Shanti held her baby in her arms with trepidation. She was afraid of eclipses. They were nothing but bad omens. As a child, she used to crouch under the bed and listen to her grandmother tell stories of serpent demons – with large heads and long tails that swallowed the sun. Terrible!
Shanti imagined the demon’s chasmal mouth opening wide, its fangs braving the sun’s fire. She watched her sleeping child for a while. How long had he lain in that ghastly light?
Beads of sweat covered her forehead as she looked in the mirror to see strange shadows dancing behind her. She put her baby back in his cot – not very gently — and studied him. She watched his mouth suckle an imaginary breast, and tickled his palm. His fingers closed in on hers, one of his fingernails digging deep into her skin. Shanti pulled her finger back and scowled at him. He was awake.
She stared at his pupils and wondered if they had always been so dark. He looked like an alien to her. She shut her eyes and put her hands on her ears to stop the hissing in her head – the serpent demon telling her she should have closed the window. She felt dizzy as a shadow fell and lifted.
Shanti tiptoed out of the room and scrutinized her baby from afar. She spied him put an entire fist into his mouth. His head spun towards the window as he stretched his little legs, his lower body a straight line – the serpent demon, thought Shanti…the head and the tail of the serpent demon!
She suddenly pulled her scarf off her neck and approached the little boy. His body grew rigid as he saw her unsmiling face. His arms reached for her but she cringed at his touch. She tied a noose around his neck with the scarf and stared at his puzzled eyes.
Just as she tugged at the ends of the scarf, the child let out a loud cry that broke through her neurotic stupor. He wailed, his shrill voice ricocheting around the four walls of the room. She blinked furiously, her breath growing jagged and her hands still holding the scarf that snaked around the baby’s neck. She quickly pulled the scarf back and swept him into her arms.
Shanti cradled her crying child while his hungry mouth sought her breast. She fed him her sweet milk and smiled at him as she wiped her own tears, cooing and sighing.
It was unusually bright outside. Shanti opened the window and looked at the sky. A strong breeze pushed the clouds towards the sea. The sun shone at her, warm and victorious. The eclipse was over.
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