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Those Blasted Lands
( Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

I really should have left that e-mail alone.

In my defence, I must say I was curious. It was from an old lover of mine, whom I hadnt heard from in years; an old lover, moreover, who had left my life under slightly mysterious circumstances. She was a rather strange person anyway, heavily involved in the occult and at the same time one of the best, albeit self-taught, software professionals Id ever met, a mix of hardheaded mathematical logic, woolly metaphysics, and rather amazing imagination. Shed come into my life in her own weird way, touched me with her magic wand, and vanished, presumably forever; and Id thought never to hear from her again.

But there it was, in my mailbox; her name, so unusual that there surely couldnt be another person with that precise combination of syllables. I hesitated a moment before I opened the mail, remembering her as Id seen her last.

Shed leaned casually against the door, watching me boil water for coffee. Shed learned to wear bright colours while she was with me, but that morning shed been as Id seen her first, in black leather jacket, jeans and low boots. Her nail polish was as black as her hair, and her lips were dark maroon against the paleness of her face.

"What are you looking at?" Id asked her, because the intensity of her gaze had made me nervous, somehow. One never got used to those eyes; an intense grey-green with flecks of hazel.

"You," shed said. "Im looking at you."

"Why?" Id asked, and turned away to the coffee, because the water was boiling. When I was through, I turned round...and she was no longer there. At first Id thought shed gone for a walk as she did sometimes, but Id found that her things were gone. Shed evidently packed them while Id been jogging that morning, or, later, had been in the shower. Id never heard from her again.

Until now.

The email comprised one single line: "I need you to look at this attachment," and was signed with the special diminutive of her name, the one that only she and I knew. That clinched it; it was she, and nobody else.

I hesitated for a moment or two before opening the attachment. It wasnt that I feared a virus, and my antivirus programmes one of the best money can buy, but because I remembered that there was really nothing one could reasonably predict when it was from her. Besides, I was still wondering why shed emailed me after such a long time...and why. It wasnt as though wed parted in acrimony, or even with any desire to separate on my side, so it couldnt be revenge. Id almost decided that it was probably one of her with her current lover, and decided to delete it unseen, when I read that one line message again: "I need you to look at this attachment." There was something very unlike her in that "need". Still thinking over that, Id clicked on the attachment, and downloaded it wondering what on earth it was all about.

It was only a picture, and one that seemed to make no sense whatsoever. It had evidently been taken in a room with walls of stone, poorly lighted and probably very old. On a crumbling stone shelf, a human skull was propped up on a thick leather-bound book, on which also stood an hourglass. To the left was a candle, and a long-stemmed pipe, of the sort Id heard opium smokers used to use, lay in the foreground next to a pair of dice.

I felt like scratching my head. There was not a clue what it meant, or why she should have sent it to me at all, let alone tell me that she "needed" me to see it. It was late, though, and I decided to go to bed and have another look in the morning, and reply to her asking what it meant.

I woke sometime in the very early hours of the morning with a conviction that I had to check on the picture, again. The room was dark and freezing cold, much colder than it had any right to be at this time of year, and the goosebumps were rising on my bare arms, but the urge was so compelling that I got up and stumbled to the laptop, not even pausing to turn on the light. Id not closed down the computer, just hibernated it, and when the screen lit up under my fingers, I could access the picture directly.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:Science Fiction
Type:Short story
Rating:5.95 / 10
Rated By:26 users
Comments: 1 user
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