“My wife is missing! How can you sit so casually? Get out of that chair and do something or else I will report you to the higher authorities.” The frustration and worry that was bottled inside found its outlet in front of that police officer. 

“We have to follow the procedure sir. Once the report is filed, we will take action right away.” The uniformed man responded without losing his cool over the agitated husband. He was accustomed to it. ‘Part of the job’, he would say that with a shrug. 

“Myra is missing and it has been more than 24 hours. Her friends couldn’t find her after she left to buy some snacks on New Year’s night. She is thirty, this is her photograph. She works as a senior consultant for the textile industry. Now can you please, please start looking for her.” The urgency in his voice was sensed by the officer who signalled to his team. 

“Any calls for ransom?” 

“None as of now.” 

“Okay. Keep me updated. We will try our best.” 

“Thank you, Sir.” He felt reassured but the panic at his heart refused to leave him. His concern for her safety and worry lingered at the back of his mind. He prayed a silent prayer that she’d be alright. As he drove back home, he couldn’t help but wonder if he’d ever see his wife again. The thought of it stretched his lips into a smirk.

New Year’s Night 

It was almost midnight. The New Year countdown had begun. 3…2…1. HAPPY NEW YEAR! The fireworks filled the dark skies. The bright and lively colors lit up the faces of four women who watched in awe. This was probably the best celebration. For a change, Myra’s husband was on a business trip and she had the chance to invite her friends over. The days her husband was out for work, were the days when she could be unapologetically herself. The thirties were different. Dancing to blaring music while trying to find enough room in a packed nightclub wasn’t exciting anymore. A group of four, in their pajamas, relaxed on the balcony, under the sky embellished with fireworks that would last a few more minutes. 

For some reason, The Conjuring played on the television screen. No one paid attention and didn’t bother to turn it off. To be frank, Bathsheba wasn’t scary. The due bills and project deadlines could scare her away too! The conversation was casual and nothing upbeat. The silences that broke the room every now and then had turned into comfort zones. Awkwardness creeped in when one of the friends asked, “where is your husband? Shouldn’t he be with you on New Years’ at least?” 

“He is busy with work. He had some important meetings to attend.” 

“Are you sure that it’s just work and not some mistress who is keeping your man occupied?” 

Even if she suspected him of infidelity, she knew not to question it. The farther he was, the happier she was.

“No. I trust him.” If a lie detector was strapped to her, it would give a different reading. To dodge any more questions about her married life, she decided to divert their attention.

Around half past twelve, Myra proposed to walk up to the convenience store, a block away from her building to get some snacks. Everyone agreed and said that she had spoken what they had on their minds. The bustling crowds kept the locality brimming with life. The streets were lit up with bedazzling lights. That night couldn’t have gotten any prettier. At the store, she picked up two bags of chips and a bottle of coke. A group of teens were at the billing counter, hovering over, holding instant noodles in each of their hands. 

 One of the boys was handing out the money, the cashier’s face was hidden behind the monitor with her fingers placed on the keyboard as though interrupted midway while she was busy jamming the keys to record the purchase. The boys weren’t moving either. She looked around and noticed that the others in the store weren’t moving too. Someone had their hands on the shelf but weren’t picking anything. They just stood there. Unmoved. Through the glass door, on the outside, she spotted a haggard-looking man, tired from the day’s hard labor, held a steaming cup of coffee between his hands, drawn towards his mouth but stopped midway. He looked lost in thought and didn’t bother to set his cup down or take a sip. 

Could be a game. Could be a prank. You know, kids these days do a lot of such things in the name of content for social media. It was too late to wait for it to be done.

She reassured herself that it was nothing to fret about. She pulled out her phone, made an online payment for the things she had purchased and left. 

As she walked back, Myra took notice of her surroundings that had drastically changed in a couple of minutes. A man on the payment stood with one foot forward and the other on toes as if the movement was pressed pause. The people at the bus stand were still. A woman got on the bus, with one foot on the bus and the other still on the ground; the passengers inside the bus sat like rocks. A father and son, the son knelt on the ground to tie his shoelace while his father was attending a phone call, looking away with one hand in his pocket, were trapped in the moment. There was no reason to think that this was a part of some elaborate prank. She checked her wristwatch. The clock wasn’t ticking. Her phone screen lit up when she pulled it out of her pocket, the time read half past twelve. The exact time she had stepped outside. 

People had turned into mannequins. They were all frozen in time. Has the world stopped spinning? Or had the universe decided to play some tricks? Oh. Could be some goblin with powers who has pressed pause on the usual functioning and she could be the one exception. Who isn’t affected by spells, the one different being that he has been hunting for a thousand years. Panic had sent her heartbeat to break through the normal speed and beat with uncontrolled intensity against her ribcage. Yet, a part of her was curious. 

While she stood on the sidewalk, she peeked onto the road. She waved at the bus driver whose eyes were fixed in her direction. No reaction. He wasn’t blinking either. Towards her block, a car making a turn had come to an abrupt halt. The windows were rolled up and she couldn’t spot who was inside the car. Irrespective, the person would have turned into a statue. As unbothered as a rock.

 Myra’s steps picked up pace, unsteady, a queasy feeling tangled in her stomach as she opened the door of her apartment. Her heart eased for a few seconds upon seeing her three friends safe. But, they were frozen in time like the rest. One of them was pouring water into a glass. The water hung similar to that of a bridge between the jug and the glass. 

She tried calling their names, gently tapped on their shoulders and as expected they sat like boulders. Unmoved. Unfazed by her touch. Uncertainty began to swallow her. If she was the only one unaffected by this unknown, perplexing phenomenon, how would she find a way out? Her mind was as clear as a blank sheet of paper. It was beyond her brain’s capacity to make sense of whatever was going on. Her mental capacity wasn’t any different from a toddler seeing the outside world for the first time. 

Home, a safe place, had now turned into nothing more than a concrete structure, far from bringing a sense of familiarity. Let’s say, it had turned emotionally unavailable like that toxic ex of yours. The walls that had once been witnesses to many memories, felt empty and void of the feeling of belongingness. 

Probably that was the first time Myra unearthed a new emotion that dropped her heart into a large bottomless pit, the gravity pulled her soul to the dead ends of anxiety. Her body fought a battle, between an attempt to maintain stability for her to think of a solution against the strong pull of discomfort, and gut-wrenching pain that hit every inch of her skin. She was lonely in a room with her closest friends. Her thought process had shut off, her legs gave away as she collapsed on the floor. 

She sat there, wondering if staying still would turn her into a human mannequin. Only if that had worked, she wouldn’t be sitting in the darkness, with her hands cuffed behind the chair. The pain inflicted on her wrists grew with every attempt to break free. Each wriggle against the forced restraint made it harder to escape. 

It wasn’t her home anymore. Through the darkness, she sensed the scent of home fade away. It was nothing but a plain space, with four walls that felt familiar to being trapped in a deep well. Probably the ceiling stretched beyond her ability to see the ends. She sat there. Handcuffed. Listening.

 The eerie stillness of the room echoed with her short breaths of fear and the heartbeat that was now as loud as the drums. The hairs at the back of her neck spiked as she sensed a presence. Her senses were on high alert. She picked up every movement of this stranger. A gust of air blew past her ear, probably from the clothes that the person was wearing, as they walked by her. A new level of fear was unlocked. With her eyesight blocked off by the darkness, she had to rely on the rest of the senses. To make matters worse, she had no clue of what or who she was up against and most importantly; Why? 

A light shone above her head. Her eyes closed shut with the sudden exposure to light as she took her time to re-adjust. For a second she thought she was staring into a mirror. The figure in front looked exactly like her. The Myra that she was looking at was wearing an all-black outfit, combat boots and a black leather jacket. The bright red lipstick highlighted the bold features of her face. Her first thought was to compliment how well she pulled off that look. 

At the first guess, Myra thought that it was one of the seven people who resembled her. A popular belief that revolves around social media. Could be a doppelganger. The silence that lingered in the room was more frightful than being held captive. A hundred questions and a voice without courage to spell them out. The locked eyes, already revealed quite a lot that was meant to be unexpressed. Each minute was excruciating and yet she was adamant on not breaking the silence first. 

The uncanny encounter had flipped her life around. The line that distinguished reality from fiction seemed to be erased. Unsure, if this was something that played in her mind or if it was all real. She had experienced sleep paralysis before. Maybe this was one of the episodes. Her body weighed down, sitting upright had turned into a strenuous task. 

The lady before Myra breaks the silence. 

“I know what you are thinking. No. I am not some doppelgänger.” 

Myra was stunned. She sounded exactly like her. The only difference had to be the outfit. She continued to speak. 

“I know you have a lot to ask. Let me introduce myself. I am Myra. Your worst fear.” A hint of arrogance reflected from her tone. 

True. Facing yourself is a lot harder than it seems. It takes a ton of strength to look into your eyes and speak your mind. The situation she was in had managed to restrain her from any movement. 

“I am you. From a different reality. The reality of infinite possibilities.” 

“I refuse to believe.” Myra retorted. Her voice low, as a whisper. 

“Your refusal to believe will not make a difference. I am here for a reason.” 

She was calm. The calmness of an ocean that housed forbidden secrets. 

“Talk after you have set me free.” Myra couldn’t hold it anymore. Her tolerance was on the verge of reaching its peak. 

“Listen. I don’t have time to deal with your crap. You need to pour all your trust into every word I am about to say. Because I am the only one you can rely on. Only I have the key to the exit you are looking for.” 

“Whatever. Untie me first.” 

“You have a weak heart to accept the truth. I have to keep you tied so that you don’t act out. I remember you didn’t take your last break up well.” She was authoritative and Myra knew that there was no point in pushing further. 

“That was years ago. I am married now.” 

“Are you happy?” 

That question sent shivers down her spine. The question she had refused to face. Refused and denied and buried and pushed away from finding an answer. Yet she managed to speak. 

“Yes. I have a family. A steady nine to five. What more could I ask for?” 

“Bold of you to say – ‘what more could I ask for?’ Don’t you want the taste of freedom? I am you. There is nothing that you can hide from me.” 

“I have nothing to hide.” Her tone sounded rather defensive. “And what do you even know? Stop trying to make a fool out of me. I am not a kid to fall for such jokes.” 

The lady scoffs. “Joke? Unlike your life, this isn’t a joke. Let me break it down so that you can understand simple quantum mechanics. As per Schrodinger’s cat, particles can exist in multiple states until they are measured. If applied to real life, the possibility of you being successful and having a happy life exists alongside the possibility of you living a miserable life. In even more simpler terms, your life hangs on the thread of infinite possibilities. The one possibility out of them is your reality. And that is all you are built to perceive. Thanks to all the advancements, I was able to unlock the doors to peep into the realities that aren’t mine but a part of me. So I happen to stop by here.” 

Myra absorbed what she heard with utmost curiosity. She had forgotten to acknowledge the pain inflicted on her wrists, the anxious heart found a safe corner that lasted a few minutes before she snapped out of the daze. Amusement had captured her in the instance. 

“So right now, this whole thing, you and I talking, is a part of some paradox?” 

“You could say that.” 

She was in the process of comprehending the information delivered to her. “You broke barriers between two realities, paused the world, just so you could have me bound to a chair and talk? You know, you could have made it simpler.” 

“How?” The lady began to grow impatient. 

“Like…leave a message or something.” 

“As if you would have believed that. Appreciate my efforts. Miracles do happen and I am creating one just to have this conversation with you.” 

“Aren’t miracles just things without explanations and like you said, things that humans aren’t awarded with the capacity to comprehend?” 

“I am not here to discuss that. Stop diverting and being so distracted. It isn’t helping. I don’t have all the time in the world.”

“Stop wasting your precious time then. Let me go and this will be over for both of us.”

“Aren’t you one bit curious to know why I am here? It’s true. You dread facing yourself. Your worst nightmare stands in front of you and you will do all that it takes to run away. Like you always do. Coward.”

“We are the same person. You just said that you know everything about me. How is it any different for you?” 

“Are you an idiot?” It would turn into a heated argument and the lady had to establish her purpose before it turns into something else. “I said, my life is another possibility of your life. In another reality, I have a happy life, a lot less pathetic and most importantly, I do what my heart says. I don’t have to hide in a cellar and wear a mask, hide my identity from the world and call myself – ‘The Masked Singer.’ I am famous, people love me and my songs aren’t cries for help.” 

Myra’s heart sank. She hoped for a life like that. When it did not turn out as expected, she blamed the circumstances and hid behind a mask. What else could she have done? Love is supposed to set you free. But for her, her love was fancied in a cage, locked with chains of possessiveness. He watched. He had his eyes on her every move, her actions were questioned and her passions were burned. He had the perfect defense. 

‘I care about you.’ 

‘I worry for you.’ 

‘Listen to me, this is for your own good. Learn to listen and obey, say yes and nod your head. It is all for the best.’ 

And when she tried to break free, he toyed with her mind as skillfully as a puppet master. The strings of manipulation only grew thicker and stronger, drowning her in guilt and laying out sleepless nights filled with tensed emotions like trophies for her. 

Leave me like the rest. You are no different. I will kill myself the moment you step out.

No one loves me. I don’t want you to get involved.

Leave me alone. I know what I deserve.’ 

The crocodile tears created bruises on her soul. It was beyond just pathetic to watch her wither away with each passing day.  

She wished she could walk right out the door saying, – ‘Your life. Go to hell and I don’t care.’ But the hug of affection held her a little too tight for her to let go. She cared a little too much. Blind to what she was being put through, she’d put up with him. She snapped back into reality when the other Myra spoke. 

“How are you still willing to stick to this pathetic life of yours?” 

“I don’t know. Besides, I don’t need your sympathy.” 

“Really? Explain that bruise on your cheek. He crossed the line didn’t he?” 

“What? I am fine.” 

“Your concealer can’t cover up for the truth that reflects off your skin.” 

Silence again. It brought back memories of the drunken episodes that ended in a couple of lashes and muffled whimpers of agony that were buried in the pillow. Tears dried and left no trace. The next morning was all about pretense. Nothing happened right? She found her outlet through  holding a microphone and singing the tunes to which people swayed. It wouldn’t have been the case if they knew that it was her call for help. 

She continued to speak. “Look. I am here to help. I know you have been through a lot. You are brave enough to even find a way to put yourself out there in front of the world while being under his stalking gaze. He burned your passion. He set fire to your piano and all the songs you stayed up until midnight to write. You watched your hard work being sacrificed to a deity that stole the very life out of you.” 

Myra couldn’t bear to hear it anymore. She wanted this to end. End it all. 

“I thought I could trust him. I thought he would be my biggest cheerleader.”

“He wants control over you Myra. You are serving just what he needs on a golden platter. Your success intimidates him. The sight of you gaining the spotlight, you being the bold woman to speak in a room full of men, voicing your opinions and making them matter, it hurts his ego. He sinks in jealousy when he sees you with anyone else that is not him. You know this all too well.”

“I know. I know. Stop talking. Please. Please, I beg you. Let me go.” 

The handcuffs slid down her wrists. She saw light from a distance. The Myra in front of her held out her hand. She gave just the reassurance that Myra needed to hear. 

“Trust me. As absurd as this all is, you will live a better life. Redeem all that you have lost. Running away from this reality will not set you free. Revenge will. Bring justice to yourself.” 

With that, Myra walked with her towards the light. It was a new beginning. A refreshing start. She traced the skin on her wrists that had scars from being handcuffed. It was all real. She had been saved. 

Present

Myra’s husband had come home from his celebrations at the bar. He had sobered up, in case the police called. He had to keep it low. Not drawing much attention to himself was the trick to get away with murder. Good riddance, he thought. The audacity she had! She dared to smile and laugh and whisper secrets in hushed tones to people apart from him. What right did she have to have a life outside of him? Wasn’t he enough? She had it all. A best friend, a husband; what more did she need from anybody else?

Her drive for wanting space and privacy and all that crap is what gave her the end she deserved. Had she realised that he was always right, this wouldn’t have happened. He frowned at the thought of her. His palms turned to fists, ready to throw a punch at her for voicing how she felt. Anyways, it was all done. His anger had been quenched from watching his wife being loaded into a coffin and lowered into the grave he had specifically dug for his beloved. 

The doorbell rang. 

He reluctantly dragged himself to open the door. The door flung open, his eyes widened and his jaw hit the floor. Myra stood at his doorstep. He took a few steps backwards as she walked in. 

“I thought you were…”

“Dead?” She finished the sentence for him. 

He rubbed his eyes, slapped himself twice just to make sure that it wasn’t any hallucination or an illusion. Sweat dripped down his forehead. His knees felt weak, unable to carry his body upright. 

“I wish this had a better end. Let’s take it from the top shall we?” 

He was filled with horror as the sirens blared at a distance. She pointed a gun at his chest. 

“Let me introduce myself. I am Myra. Your treasured nightmare.” 

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