fantasy · flash friday · Short Story

Friday Flash: Loose Characters

This piece was inspired from Character Dheela. Translated, that means Loose Character. The video is at the bottom, plus one other with English subtitles and a link to a site that translated the lyrics into English. It’s one of this year’s item numbers.

I am not quite happy with this flash, but I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it. Something’s missing.  I wish I knew what.

I eyed the peepal tree in my sister’s yard. It was all gnarled trunk and large, spreading branches.  Its big leathery-green leaves waved gently in the non-existent wind. How many ghosts had sister captured?

“Sheela,” said Raja, my brother-in-law. He rose from the dining table and hugged me. Slender shoulders, black eyes gentler than sister deserved, he looked frail. Poor man. She wouldn’t take his soul for years yet, but she would take everything else. “So glad you could come. Munni says you’re volunteering at the orphanage.”

Oh, she had, had she? “Once a week.” It was a good way to find souls to add to my own peepal tree. I had to finish mine before she managed to summon a demon. “Let me see if I can help sister in the kitchen.”

Sister’s kitchen was a modern affair, stainless steel appliances and marble counters. She was beautiful in a tightly fitted pink salwar suit. Its neckline was low enough to bare half of her upper back. But she used her looks to lure the men whose souls she tied to her tree.

When she turned around, large cold eyes dominated her face. “Sheela. You’re a pediatrician; you make enough to afford a decent tailor.”

I shrugged. My store-bought salwar was loose, but comfortable. “I like it, sister. What can I do to help?”

“Carry the food outside. It’s cool enough we can eat in the garden. ”

It was 33 degrees outside. She just wanted to show off her peepal. I smiled sweetly and agreed.

The trunk of the peepal tree was shadowed, more than the setting sun could explain.

The table was set under the branches. I put down the rose-tinted glass tray. No bugs. How had she gotten rid of them? The things paid no attention to magic.

I studied the canopy of leaves overhead. For all their pretty color, there were a lot of brown sets. No, not brown spots. Faces. So many malicious, male faces.

Only one was clear:  scruffy beard, slanted eyes, iron-shaped scar on his left check. Sometimes he came to the orphanage. He was on the news this morning; the police found his chopped up body in a mall garbage can. He dealt in girls.

Choosing souls of criminals was a mistake. They were harder to control. Even if the tree loved them, they didn’t offer much nourishment to demons.

I shivered and wondered if I dared inspect the trunk closely. If she had almost enough souls to get a demon . . . But I only needed two more myself.

“Are you getting sick, Sheela?” Raja came outside, carrying a tray of rice.

The tree shivered and I thought I saw the thin upper branches reaching toward him.

“Sometimes this wind makes me ill. Just look at how this wind makes the branches move,” he added.

This breeze wasn’t enough to stir a single hair. I needed to move faster.

The orphanage was quiet. I moved directly to the room with the sick girls. Ten year old Mala had sores all over her body and a broken arm, too. Poor thing. I lifted her and she stirred, blinking open large doe eyes.

“I am taking you somewhere where you can get well. Go back to sleep.”

My home was only a kilometer from sister’s. I got it because sister was already married. Papa lived only until sister had no use for him. Just one of the things she hadn’t paid for yet.

My yard was bigger than sister’s. Papa’s wicker furniture looked good under the tree limbs and the tall stone wall around the property was in excellent shape.

Even though Papa had planted the peepal tree years ago, it was smaller and denser than sisters’. But a child’s soul had more power than an adult one. I didn’t need as many souls as sister.

I set the girl down under the tree.

“Sheela Auntie?” she said. “Mummy always said to keep away from the peepal tree at night.”

“Mummy was wrong.” I picked up the box of sweets I’d left on the table and gave it to her. “Munch on this.”

The girl fell asleep in moments. I took the box from her sticky fingers and got my keys for the door.

But as I slipped the key into the lock, the door jerked open and sister stood in front of me. She was dressed for the night in tight jeans and a low-cut, embroidered top.

How had she gotten inside? Even as I thought the question, I knew it didn’t matter. She’d probably made a copy of the key sometime.

She looked past me to the girl beneath my peepal tree. “A girl, Sheela? A hurt child? I never imagined you could be so shameless. Raja!”

Poor Raja appeared at sister’s elbow. “What’s wrong, Munni?”

“Bring her inside.” Sister pointed at the girl sleeping under the peepal tree.

“Sister, you can’t -”

She whirled on me. “Pimps, rapists and murderers are perfect for this, Sheela, they don’t deserve to live. But children – shameless bitch, you’re responsible for their health! Just like papa. He must be so proud of you.”

Raja brushed past me carrying the girl.

I ground my teeth. There was no difference between us; she had no room to cast stones.

Furious, I stormed to my room. Papa would be proud of me!

Joy bubbled in my blood, just like before every ceremony. I would have the girl and sister, too.

I grabbed the big knife from my tool box, found sister bending over the girl in the living room and slashed at her throat.

Pain exploded in my chest. The knife dropped from my nerveless fingers, inches from sister’s neck. I looked down to see my meat knife protruding from my breast.

“I am sorry, Sheela, but you need to stop.”

Raj gathered me in his arms. His eyes were still gentle, still calm.

I misjudged him.

“We’ll give her to the tree and then burn it down.”

Sister’s voice was distant, as if she was far away.

With english subtitles:

Text of the song here.


34 thoughts on “Friday Flash: Loose Characters

  1. That was an interesting piece, the only thing missing for me, was why did they collect souls, what was the purpose behind their acts. This unless I’ve misunderstood doesn’t seem to be explained. So you have an intriguing story here, that left me with those question.

  2. I can agree that the motive for collecting souls is missing, though you could leave that ambiguous and I’d still buy the piece. I’d like a snappier ending if possible, something that pulls more of it together – but I don’t know if that’s what you’re shooting for.

    I loved the notion of the tree, criminal souls and face-spots. It all read as very novel to me.

    1. Funny you should mention that. I deleted my original ending. My first ending went something like this:

      Crows cawed above me. No, not crows, children. Such harsh voices for such little children. One dark, darting shape bit my arms; another gripped my foot. I tried to move, tried to shake them off, but something held me still.

      I watched, horrified, as dozens of small, dark shapes surrounded me.

      As for novelness – my mom used to tell us ghosts live under trees and how they sometimes take possession of people. There is even a movie, Paheli, based on the concept. The ending and giving people to the trees isn’t present in the stories, though.

  3. I agree with the other comments. Also, I’m wondering about the title. Is it that each of the sisters thinks the other is loose? As in, “There was no difference between us; she had no room to cast stones.”

  4. I don’t think it matters too much why they collected the souls. The just had an obsession of sorts. Too much backstory will ruin a flash.

    I really liked this, and found it interesting and very quick to read.

    1. True, exposition/backstory in flash has to be almost non-existent. Thanks! Glad it was quick (it went about 40 words over the 1000 word limit.)

  5. I REALLY liked that. I was completely sympathetic to the main character the entire time until the ending. I assumed she was right, even when her actions screamed that she was wrong. WELL DONE!!!!

  6. Intriguing. I thought the reason they collected the souls was clear as bait/food for the demon they would summon. Delightful premise you’ve chosen for this!

      1. Sheela’s thought: If she had almost enough souls to get a demon . . . But I only needed two more myself. seemed to make it obvious to me, but I love playing with layers of meanings and so therefore, I may be looking for it where your average reader isn’t.

        1. Only about a quarter got the demon part, so it wasn’t clear enough. LOL Hey maybe! Glad you got the demon part though.

  7. Dark and creative! I enjoyed the tale, Sonia. I thought the competition between them pulled the story along quite well. I liked the concept of them feeding the souls to the tree until they could summon a demon. That was creepy. (In a good way.) 🙂

  8. I felt the emotions could have been a little stronger – the rivalry between the sisters, how she feels bringing the child home, that sort of thing. But overall it worked for me. I like that she can see the faces in the tree and I don’t need an explanation for why they gather the souls.

  9. I’d like a little more explanation as to why she needs to beat her sister – is she trying to conjure something to beat the demon, or does she need a bigger demon?

  10. I’m not familiar with the lore, but I like it and you handled it very well. i will never look at trees the same again :). And thanks for the comment on my story. Always appreciated!

  11. Very interesting. Did you try starting from this line. The begining kind of through me off. It started flowing better at the start of this line “It was 33 degrees outside.” I would consider make the question in the first paragraph, part of the first sentence. Read together I think that makes a nice hook.

  12. Sonia, I loved this story, I thought it was very imaginative and drew me in completely. I particularly liked the narrator’s voice. The ending was a nice twist.

  13. I really liked this piece and have to say I prefer the second ending you posted under John’s comment. It does leave the reader questioning the purpose, but I think given the concept, this factor gives it more edge….maybe a follow on

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