Brief Excursion to an Underwater Planet
Our protagonist (you) meets a girl on a bus. She says her name is June, and claims that her singing can make it rain. The driver is a man with big, egg-shaped eyes who coughs uncontrollably whenever he sees blood. He tells you that he has three children, out of which one is a seahorse. He keeps a Spiderman bobblehead on his dashboard because it reminds him of the moment he first held his newborn son in his arms. The bus is going through the ocean, and you see the colourful reefs spread across the seabed. Schools of different fish you have never seen keep passing the windows, which are thick, unmoveable, and unopenable. There are other passengers inside the bus, among whom is a man who keeps talking about the benefits of meditation. You begin to realise that June is the girl you loved in your past life. The man talking about meditation then moves on to talk about tantric sex, and slowly starts talking about other ways of meditation — headspace, the Buddhist way, the Tibetan smiling meditation etc. There is another man on the bus — a slave (as he claims). His clothes are tattered, the white rags stained a dirty shade of brown. It looks like his right shoulder is broken, and a quick glance at his neck reveals that he's been whipped mercilessly. It's obvious that he is on the run from his cruel owner. Full of rage, he actively counters the optimism of the meditation proponent by saying that there are only two types of people in the world: the ruled, and the ones who ruled. The meditation proponent goes on to say that it was the duty of all men to recognize that they are all collectively ruled, while the ruler sat somewhere in outer space (his version of God). The slave scoffs at this, but refuses to grant further arguments.
You look out into the ocean — and it starts becoming apparent that you are on another planet. The bus is going deeper and deeper — 1357 km deep, the driver claims proudly. The seabed you had seen was merely one of the floating cities that are scattered across the entirety of the planet. The rising action part of the story can deal with such revelations, step by step, the climax being the bus driver finally admitting that this was another planet, a planet where there was only water and everything was underwater. On this planet, he says, the water is much thicker because of the high gravity and high atmospheric pressure. You sit back, because there is nothing left to do but enjoy the ride.
A jazz player steps into the bus through the draining chamber. She's a fat, thick fish who is made of a material x10000 times stronger than steel yet x3.4 softer than felt. She hands her trumpet to the slave, who then proceeds to play it effortlessly. "The ultimate high," the meditation proponent says, "is not heroin — it's meditation." He transforms into a naked man, gun in hand. In this form, his hair is short-cropped, jet-black. He has narrow shoulders, and you can see the freckles pervading his upper back. The slave says that his master had given them drugs to enlarge their amygdala, so that his "beautiful blackbirds" — as he often referred to them — would feel much more fear of him. The cruellest thing, the slave said, was depriving people of their hormones. The only way they made up for it was by dancing at night — that was their ultimate rebellion. (There are rumours that the slaveowner's son went on to become one of the best dancers on the entire planet — whether or not this is related to the dancing slaves cannot be ascertained). The jazz-playing fish confides that it has a belittling fear of crows: "I don't mind their black bodies or sharp talons," she says, "It's their hellish eyes I fear." The slave says that the slaves eventually get addicted to the medicine, so they consume it with a rabid passion — they don't even feel like refusing the very thing that magnifies their fear of the slaveowner. The more they feared him, the more they craved the medicine. There were reports of some slaves going crazy when sent to solitary confinement, and the cause was found to be withdrawals from the medicine.
The backstory of the fish: originally a girl, had to work for the mafia as a sex worker because her father owed them a favour; was shot to shreds during an attempt to escape; underwent reconstructive surgery that was funded by the Don's son, who had fallen in love with her; was hardly human thereafter, and became a powerful robot whose second attempt at escape was successful; joined an NGO that worked for the fulfilment of robot rights; fell in love with an indie filmmaker, who was a fish; underwent another reconstructive surgery to become said breed of fish; finally escaped from the fish (who turned out to be an infant pornography connoisseur) after stealing a hundred trillion gonks. She was on the run — just like the slave.
Surprised, June confides that she was also on the run from her abusive stepfather, who threw a cup of boiling coffee at her face when she was 11 years old, who hit her with his belt every time she cried, who put her in a basement filled with rats whenever he felt like it. The meditation proponent/naked man was the last one to admit it — he, too, was on the run from the police after committing a murder. "I did the wrong thing for the right reason," he kept on saying, teeth gritted.
They all look from one to the other, and their gaze collectively settles on you. You are the centre of their attention, and the harmless question that they ask, for some reason, begins to unsettle you: "What are you running away from?"
Abhineet Agarwal likes oranges, ukuleles, and Russian arthouse films. He's been published by Terribly Tiny Tales, The Creative Cafe (Medium) and Kitaab. If he writes something that doesn't weird people out, he knows that he has failed.